For my final project/paper, I want to write about how environmental social justice coincides with “natural” disasters, and more specifically the violations of environmental justice that occurred both pre and post hurricane Katrina. Katrina was the most destructive natural disaster our country has seen. It destroyed thousands of livelihoods, killed people, and displaced communities. However, the destruction may not be the most disturbing part of this horrifying event. Our government failed on a major level in preparing the people for the storm, and failed miserably in responding to the horrifying destruction in its wake. There was a disturbing apathy in disaster prevention before the storm hit on the local and national level. Those that were fortunate enough to have cars or know someone with a form of transportation had the opportunity to leave for higher ground and shelter. New Orleans has a very large minority and poor population. These populations tend to live on the historically cheapest land, which also tends to be the most susceptible land to pollution and disaster. Unfortunately, this means that when disaster struck, this population of people had little means of escaping the storm. The city did not provide viable mass public transportation out of the city, and many stayed in their low-lying homes to wait out the storm.
One neighborhood that was affected most is the lower ninth ward, a historically poor and mostly minority neighborhood. The residents of the LNW had few resources to escape the storm, so many stayed in their homes. Katrina struck with more force than anyone could imagine, and the levy’s which were protecting these people from the raging water broke, sending a 20 foot wall of water to wipe away their homes and memories. Although the LNW was not the only neighborhood that experienced incredible destruction, I want to focus on it because those living there experienced first-class environmental racism and social injustice.
New Orleans is an amazing city because of its diverse culture, lively music scene and most importantly its community’s infallible resilience. I’ve had the opportunity to see the city pre- and post Katrina. I visited New Orleans around 10 years ago, and my memories are limited to the standard visits to the vibrant French Quarter and Mississippi river. My second visit, a school service trip over this past winter break, was incredible in a much different way. We visited the lower ninth, touched the new levy, met locals, visited a school that has since risen from the hurricane ashes as a successful charter, and saw other memorable sights. The purpose of our service trip was to work on homes in Slidell that were damaged in Hurricane Isaac in August. Slidell is a middle class suburb outside of New Orleans in which many relocated to after Katrina. The neighborhood was scattered with seemingly unaffected homes and contrasting dilapidated homes still suffering from Isaac damage.
The firsthand emotional experiences in New Orleans had made this paper more personal. As I write, I simultaneously mentally revisit the sights we saw throughout the trip. New Orleans is a city of contradictions; there is the French Quarter that was almost immediately restored after the storm, and there are poor neighborhoods such as the LNW only miles away that still remain in shambles without proper resources. It is obvious that the poor neighborhoods were neglected resources to rebuild while other areas were rewarded help. Environmental racism and classism is always the enemy of minorities and the poor in natural disasters, and this trend needs to end. It will be enlightening to research details of how the government failed to protect its citizens pre and post Katrina, understand if the failed system has been since fixed (Sandy?), and if not how we can prevent this level of neglect from every happening again.
I also want to look into how climate change will increase the rate of disaster occurrences in the future, which will predictably impact low-income societies most.
There are a ton of books on this topic that I am looking into, and endless first hand experiences recounted by victims.
TED talk that speaks to disaster prevention: http://blog.ted.com/2012/12/26/11-talks-that-freaked-us-out-in-2012/