Still Searching for Justice a Decade After Hurricane Katrina

by Hannah Strange

August 26, 2015

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest natural disasters ever to strike the United States. Ten years later, elected leaders in affected communities would like to tell you that the region has recovered, it’s resilient, and it’s open for business. But there’s another side to this story.

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Downriver from New Orleans 21 days after Hurricane Katrina struck.

© Greenpeace / Christian Åslun

Ten years ago, the United States bore witness to climate change at work. The devastating impacts of Hurricane Katrina showed us that climate change is not simply a problem for future generations. It is real, it is here, and it will impact all of us—some communities more deeply than others.  

A range of evidence suggests links between rising ocean temperatures due to global warming and the destructive power of hurricanes like Katrina. One 2013 study even found that global warming could increase the number of Atlantic hurricanes as strong as Katrina by as much as 700 percent.

It’s no secret that Hurricane Katrina had the greatest consequences for marginalized communities, especially communities of color. For instance, populations in the areas most damaged by Katrina were 46 percent African American, compared to 26 percent in undamaged areas. In New Orleans itself, damaged areas were 75 percent African American. Of the 1,800 lives claimed by Katrina, more than half were black.

Hurricane Katrina

More than 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans took shelter in the Houston Astrodome for roughly two weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Photo by FEMA/Andrea Booher.

While this disparity was fairly obvious in the weeks and months following the disaster, it continues to be true to this day. Structural inequalities present well before Katrina—and the failure to include impacted communities in developing real solutions—continue to hamper recovery.

Contrary to the rhetoric you’ll hear from leaders all the way up to President Obama, communities in the Gulf South are still healing from Hurricane Katrina.

The Gulf South Is Rising

Communities across the Gulf South are coming together this week to commemorate the ten years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina under the banner of #GulfSouthRising. In a week of action consisting of more than 13 events from Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana, local leaders will tell their side of the story—to say that the illusion of recovery is not progress and that a return to business-as-usual structures of privilege is not justice.

Through the Movement Support Hub, Greenpeace is answering Gulf South Rising’s call for support for the week of action. A team of seven staff is down in New Orleans to lend our hands and our tools—from amplifying local voices through social media and helping get traditional media coverage, to painting banners with Gulf South Rising slogans, and volunteering as note-takers and helping with event registration.

We’re here in solidarity with local leadership and the vision built by impacted communities. The anticipation is building as we get closer to a weekend full of powerful and transformative events.     

A Vision for Justice

In the lead up to the 10-year commemoration of Katrina, leaders across the Gulf South came together to articulate principles and demands for true resilience and recovery.  Here are five things we should all consider:

  • A right to return. Displaced families and communities have a right to return to their homes, to social and public services, and to economic opportunities.
  • Those lost will not be forgotten. Not all of those who died or were misplaced have been accounted for, which is an affront to the trauma their friends and families have already suffered.
  • Value the people, protect the land. Communities are more resilient, but no safer now from another Katrina than they were ten years ago. Extractive industries are threatening the land, health, and culture of the Gulf. As a country, we must take meaningful steps to address climate resilience for all communities.
  • Recovery must be with the people, for the people and by the people. A recovery that benefits a privileged few is not a recovery at all. Economic, racial, and environmental justice must be embedded in recovery for communities affected by Katrina.
  • The illusion of recovery is not progress. We cannot accept the inequalities embedded in what has been labeled as progress so far. It’s time to prop up the voices of communities on the frontlines of this disaster and build a movement to achieve true recovery and resilience.

August 29, 2015 marks ten years since Katrina broke the levees in New Orleans. It’s a time to remind ourselves that climate change is here, it is real, and the devastation it creates can take generations to resolve.

It’s also time to put the Gulf South on the right track to recovery—one that prioritizes justice over privilege and real resilience over quick profit. By healing communities in the Gulf, we can heal a nation.

By Hannah Strange

Hannah Strange is the director of Greenpeace USA's Movement Support Hub.

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