The Maui Fires, Ukraine, and the Biden Administration’s Response to Disaster.
(Image c/o Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP, File)
By Jules Miles
Recently, the Biden Administration has come under scrutiny for sending significantly more aid to Ukraine than to those suffering in the wake of the Maui fires. According to NPR, “The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve $40 billion in emergency funding, including $24 billion for Ukraine as part of security, economic and humanitarian assistance for the country as it defends its borders against a Russian invasion.” In contrast, merely $12 million has been sent out to aid Maui, as described in “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration’s Latest Actions to Support Communities Impacted by Maui Wildfires,” published by the White House in order to record the aid Maui has received on behalf of the federal government and associated organizations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, had also “made available more than 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies to the county government for distribution,” and provided funding to the Hawai’i Fire Relief Housing program, which in turn was established by the American Red Cross.
The disaster of the Maui fires is unprecedented; the massive loss of human life that said fires incurred is a national tragedy—and yet, the people of Maui have an entire nation of people to help them, to take action to prevent such a disaster from ever occurring again, and to aid the people whose lives have been devastated by the fires. In contrast, the very nation of Ukraine is under attack. They have nowhere else to turn but to the rest of the world—and so it is imperative that the global community rally behind them. Like Maui, Ukraine, too, has been devastated by disaster—one that cannot be understood by anyone who has not had their lives destroyed by war. According to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, since the beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine to the date of July 30th of this year, there have been 26,015 recorded civilian casualties in Ukraine: “9,369 killed and 16,646 injured.”
The Maui fires and the Russia-Ukraine war are both humanitarian tragedies, crises that must be addressed through the support of those who are able to provide it—and yet, they are tragedies that vary immensely in scale, with the former having claimed 114 lives, and the latter having claimed thousands. Additionally, while the destruction in Maui has passed enough so that residents have been able to return home to Lahaina (as of September 25th, as reported by the New York Times), the war in Ukraine goes on, with no end or hope in sight.
As Seung Min Kim writes of Maui for the PBS News Hour, “It will take years to rebuild Lahaina, where just about every building was obliterated”—and the very same is true for Ukraine. In the face of this humanitarian crisis, and of the scale of the destruction waged against the people of Ukraine, two things are blatant: Ukraine needs outside aid, and it needs more aid than those recovering from the Maui fires. It doesn’t matter “who” any humanitarian disaster belongs to—only that it is tended to with the gravity and aid it deserves by right, and that the people whose lives have been destroyed by said disasters receive the dignity and relief they so need.
The world, as it exists today, is incredibly globalized; no nation lives in isolation from the rest of the world. As such, humanitarian disaster anywhere is a matter that concerns the entire world—not only from the transactional standpoint of what allies stand to gain from each other through providing aid to each other in times of crisis, but from a standpoint of basic human kindness and protecting human rights by fulfilling human need. Victims of destruction and disaster (no matter the cause) deserve aid—because, quite simply, it’s the only right and human thing to do.
The White House:
The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/maui-wildfires-hawaii.html
PBS News Hour: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/watch-biden-says-government-will-help-maui-for-as-long-as-it-takes-in-fire-recovery
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
Madison Sciba '24,