Recent developments surrounding the devastating Maui wildfire have thrust M. Kaleo Manuel, a Hawaii official, into the limelight. The controversy? Allegedly withholding vital water resources during the wildfire’s peak. What’s particularly catching attention is Manuel’s prior commendation as an “Obama Leader” by the Obama Foundation in 2019.
Manuel, previously the deputy director of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, is currently awaiting the conclusion of an investigation, following which he has been reassigned.
The heart of the matter lies in the crucial afternoon hours of August 8. West Maui Land Company reached out to Manuel, seeking immediate release of water to battle the blazing inferno. However, Manuel hesitated, stating that consultation with local farmers was needed. By the time he finally authorized the release, it was 6 p.m., as cited by the Star-Advertiser.
The aftermath of this wildfire has been nothing short of catastrophic. Over 100 people lost their lives, with a death toll that ranks among the highest in over a century for the U.S. The flames razed or damaged more than 2,200 structures, with the majority being residences.
Expressing their frustrations, the West Maui Land Company penned a letter, highlighting how they were paralyzed from aiding despite having resources. “The sight of the destruction, with the knowledge that we could have provided more water for mitigation, was disheartening,” the company lamented.
Although public sentiment leans toward scrutiny, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has urged patience, requesting the public to reserve judgment until a thorough examination of the facts is done.
Interestingly, Manuel’s association with the Obama Foundation is spotlighted on the DLNR website, emphasizing his status as one of the inaugural “Obama Leaders” for the Asia-Pacific region. Manuel, in the past, has shed light on the spiritual significance of water for native Hawaiians, advocating for unity over division when it comes to water resources. His ethos? “Let water connect us and not divide us.”
Former President Barack Obama, with his roots in Hawaii, addressed the wildfire’s aftermath, urging the public to extend support beyond mere thoughts and prayers. Emphasizing the need for tangible actions, he urged individuals to contribute to relief initiatives and assist Lahaina’s recovery efforts.
In light of this tragedy, the pertinent question remains: Was the delay in releasing water a result of procedural protocol, deeply-held beliefs, or an administrative oversight? The ongoing investigation will hopefully provide clarity. But for now, the tragedy serves as a somber reminder of the importance of timely decision-making during crises.