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Hurricane Katrina as Environmental Injustice

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On August 25th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had devastated communities on the gulf coast of the United States. Katrina hit New Orleans the hardest and left neighborhood streets underwater. Katrina is also one of the costliest tropical storms to have descended upon the united states with the total punitive damages totaling up to over 125 billion dollars from rising floodwaters and destroyed homes. People of color were most affected due to racial inequality and being forced to live in cheaper neighborhoods that are more vulnerable to flooding. The government hadn’t provided a safe evacuation procedure but those affected still sought out for help from the government.

Katrina had destroyed 800,000 housing units leaving thousands homeless and out of the tens of thousands that were rescued, 30000 were forced to take shelter in the Louisianans super dome while 1836 people lost their lives. The aftermath according to the US census only about 32,000 returned which is only 56% of what it was before the Katrina tragedy. Failure of disaster planning and failure to maintain levees and dams led to floodwaters in neighborhoods in the New Orleans area. Failure of the levees affected mostly the African American population. The poverty rate was high in the area which made them live in unsafe areas that were not well-maintained by the government. Mayor Ray Nagin had ordered an evacuation of the city, but many refused to leave or were unable to due to various reasons such as they believed the homes they lived in had significant protection against the disaster or were unable to do so due to the lack of finances or transportation. We watched how residents were abandoned by federal, state and local authorities and over 1800 people mostly of color lost their lives. Katrina is just another example of how minority groups especially those of color are unprotected when it comes to environmental sustainability. The United States must show some accountability for improper planning and letting minorities risk their lives in vulnerable environments.

Rob Nixon, in his book “Slow violence, Neoliberalism, and Environmental Picaresque” 2011, highlights discrimination against minority communities and the government’s failure to maintain infrastructure and to organize evacuation plans leads to a disadvantage for these minority communities during times of human or natural disaster. He also highlighted the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and how racial discrimination played “a role in the safety of those communities affected”. He states that “negligence to prevent potential damages such as creating neighborhoods around poorly maintained levees is due to neoliberal ideals”. He defines the wealth gap that allows upper-class white groups to have better access to safety than those of color. In my opinion, the minority or colored groups that we’re unable to afford homes in wealthy or well-maintained neighborhoods face a form or both racial and environmental injustice. If proper maintenance of levees and dams as well as proper evacuation procedures, protocols, and policies were in place many people would have still been alive today and wouldn’t have to be displaced from the natural disaster.

“The Road Home” was a housing assistance program first led by Governor Kathleen Blanco who delayed the program for 6 months by seeking more money from congress. Only 6 billion dollars was funded through the GOP congress, but this wasn’t enough for Blanco’s recovery program that was supposed to promise grants of up to 150,000 thousand dollars. ICF was supposed to hand out the money but those who filed claims didn’t hear back for months to find out they still need verification, such as fingerprint verification and birth certificates for counter fraud measurements, note that most had lost their entire homes and all documents that they had. There wasn’t any timetable of when the grants were supposed to be handed out by due to loopholes in appraisal methods and award calculations delayed grants for months. Out of 105,000 who applied only 506 had received money Department of Housing and urban development said that the program needed to be redesigned due to the faults in it and gov also declined grants that exceeded the property value so the Road Home program could only pay out the home’s value before the hurricane. Homeowners in black neighborhoods received less in grants than white neighborhoods who had fewer damages or similar damages in better neighborhoods with similar home sizes. A discrimination lawsuit was filed and 20 million dollars was to be divided amongst 125000 residents and business in checks ranging between 2.50 cents and 3,700 dollars depending on level of flood damage and size of home. The money was still not enough for some survivors to completely rebuild their houses and get back on their feet. I feel it cost more to clean up the damages and debris than to ensure proper prevention. Levees and flood walls should be kept maintained and emergency response teams should make those who are most vulnerable a priority. The housing rebuilding program has not showed proper policies to protect Human rights and speedy recovery and it took almost a decade for some to recover. The hurricane and storm damage reduction program was put in place in 2011 to reduce vulnerabilities to flooding in the New Orleans region. Higher and more resistant flood walls and levees were constructed throughout the region.

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