Foreign aid: The US accepted it for Hurricane Katrina, why can’t India for Kerala?

The US had accepted $ 100 million foreign aid from Qatar and UAE. This strikes down the rationale behind the refusal of foreign aid that it would make the country look poor.


Amidst the row over Modi government denying ₹700 crores help offered by the United Arab Emirates for Kerala flood relief, the Arab country has said that it is yet to fix the amount of financial aid. The UAE’s ambassador to India, Ahmed Albanna today asserted that it has formed a committee to ensure the funds reach the right beneficiaries in Kerala. The same was informed by the HH Sheikh Mohammed, the vice president and Prime Minister of UAE in a tweet on August 18.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in reply, thanked him for his “gracious offer”. However, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan in a tweet dated August 21 said informed that the “United Arab Emirates will provide Kerala with an assistance of ₹700 Crore”. He also said that the assistance of UAE was first informed to Malayali businessman and philanthropist Yusuff Ali M.A.

As for UAE, the Malayalis from Kerala account for almost 2.4 million of its population.

While the barbs over the amount of financial aid by UAE have already been traded between state and Centre, the immediate matter to be looked after is not the amount of aid but the acceptance of the foreign aid.

The two weeks of heavy downpour left the southern state of Kerala flooded. The flood that almost submerged an entire state killed 400 people. The economic and infrastructural damage has scaled up to $3 Billion which roughly translates to ₹21,000 crores. Over 10,000 KMs of highways have been destroyed. While the damages to the public properties are being estimated, the government assessment says about 100,000 buildings, including houses, have been damaged and millions of hectares of crops are lost.

To carry out the rescue and relief programmes, the Kerala government demanded around ₹2600 crores as an immediate assistance. However, the centre allotted 500 crores to Kerala in addition to the ₹100 crores interim relief announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh earlier. Several states have also extended helping hand to Kerala contributing over ₹200 crores together. However, many Keralites criticised the Modi government alleging that the amount given is meagre compared to the scale of damage in the flood-ravaged Kerala. Especially, after the Centre refused the help offered by the UAE.

In a statement, the MEA spokesperson said, while India appreciated the offers of help from different countries, “in line with the existing policy, the government is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts.

foreign aid
Media briefing by MEA spokesperson

The policy cited by the Central government is that followed by former PM Manmohan Singh’s government. After the 2004 Tsunami, Singh denied any financial assistance from foreign governments. In December 2004, PM Singh famously said, “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed.” The policy is, however, limited to foreign governments, and does not extend to individuals and charity organizations.

Since then, various Indian states were confronted with several natural disasters of severe nature including Uttarakhand Floods in 2013 that killed 6,054 people, Kosi Floods in Bihar in 2005 that left 527 dead and affected 3.33 million, Assam Floods in 2012 that took lives of more than 120 people, Maharashtra flood in 2005 in which approximately 1,094 people died, Gujarat Floods in 2005 which left 123 people dead and the Jammu floods in 2014. In the past 14 years, India has refused to accept aid from Russia, the US and Japan for the national calamity.

Rescue efforts after Uttarakhand floods

However, prior to 2004, India has accepted foreign aid including even the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. Then why did India adopt such a seemingly arbitrary policy? As noted by former Bureaucrat Ganesh Jagtap in HW Reacts, India has been aiding certain underdeveloped countries and African countries as well as some South-Asian countries, so as to position itself as a strong and robust economy of the region ready to help. Simultaneously, there is a psyche when a government is offered the aid, to not accept it so as to send a message to the world that we are self-sufficient.” However, even this policy was criticized by many scholars and experts citing the example of US, Japan and China.

The United States, being a world leader, accepted foreign aid from countries around the world when the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit the nation in 2005. It even accepted the aid from countries considered as poor. The US government even noted the contribution made by Sri Lanka to the relief especially at a time when the island nation itself was dealing with the after-effects of Tsunami. The US had even accepted $ 100 million aid from Qatar and UAE. This strikes down the rationale behind the refusal of foreign aid that it would make the country look poor.

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The provision related to accepting foreign aid during Natural Disaster, NDMP 2016

However, the question is not only of following a policy or rather a norm laid down by the previous government. The Narendra Modi government in 2016 released National Disaster Management Plan in which it elaborated accepting the foreign aid during such times. In chapter 9 which deals with International Co-operation during the times of Natural Disaster, it is mentioned that though, the government does not seek any international help in wake of natural disaster, it may accept the aid if offered voluntarily by the foreign countries. The paragraph 9.2 states, “As a matter of policy, the Government of India does not issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster, if the national government of another country voluntarily offers assistance as a goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, the Central Government may accept the offer.”

Even the CPIM criticised the government for not accepting foreign aid citing the NDMP 2016. Even Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac questioned the stance of government asking the more pertinent question, If the govt. is refusing the foreign aid, who will provide it on an urgency basis?

As over 2 lakh people wait to return to their homes after the flood waters have receded, the collective efforts of both the central and state government should be directed at the rehabilitation of millions who have been rendered homeless. Instead of indulging in such debates over financial assistance, the government should look into simplifying processes so that Kerala receives all the required assistance from all possible means to rebuild.

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