Should Govt keep giving?
Do victims of natural disasters have an inalienable right to comprehensive and immediate government succour? After three weeks of being sheltered and supported by various State agencies in the Diamond Vale Community Centre, 15 people who lost their homes in the floods which hit Diego Martin and environs last month are now bitterly complaining that the Government has forgotten about them.
This is a sensitive matter, since most of the people similarly affected have been installed in houses supplied by the Housing Development Corporation. But even that fact means that other citizens who would have applied for these homes have now been put further back, or even off, the waiting list. After all, that arrangement is supposed to last just three months, yet these flood-hit victims may be given the first option to enter into a lease-and-buy arrangement with the HDC.
It's also significant that those still in the shelter aren't saying what they have done to help themselves find accommodations. It may well be that, being poor people, they have no resources to provide a buffer against such setbacks. The poor typically spend all their income as they get it, and cannot save for — in this case, literally — a rainy day. At the same time, these persons were getting by somehow before being hit by the disaster.
Many of those who haven't received the State assistance they are asking for were renters, which means it wasn't their property which was damaged. Yet one such individual boldly asked, "What does being a renter have to do with helping me get a place? I don't have any kind of money to go out and get another place." If that is so, how was she paying rent before? Another woman described the living conditions at the shelter as inhumane. "The place is hot, the air-condition has stopped working, food has stopped coming, and the Government seems to have forgotten about us," she said. So did she have air condition before, and how was she feeding herself?
In such situations, the State is certainly obliged to assist persons while they recover from the setback caused by such events. But the obligations of the State do not extend beyond providing a breathing space and to restore these persons to their former standard of living. Suspicions arise, however, that some of these individuals are seeing their misfortune as an opportunity to make a fortune.
Few governments anywhere can afford to respond to such demands, and even those which do have the wherewithal would not encourage such dependency. While not hardening its heart in the face of suffering, the Government should recognise the financial and practical unwisdom of being a "tireless mother".