the Disillusioned kid: Katrina And The Waves
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Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina And The Waves

Watching news footage of events unfolding in New Orleans it is difficult to believe that this is taking place in the richest, most powerful country in the world. Such scenes of tragedy and chaos are almost de rigueur when natural disasters strike the Third World, but you expect something else when it happens in the West, as if our wealth and technological prowess are somehow going to protect us from the power of Mother Nature.

Much of the coverage has focused on looting. While many cops on the ground seem to be happy to look the other way, their superiors have a different idea. Those helping themselves to potentially life-saving supplies are now to be faced with national guardsmen just back from Iraq (where many of the guardsmen who should be helping out in New Orleans are currently based) and under orders to utilise deadly force. Given the situation faced by those caught up in the chaos I don't blame the looters for a second; I'd do the same thing. Good luck to them. The idea that they should be gunned down for their troubles is contemptible and hopefully won't be put into practice.

Dan points out that the attention focused on the threat to state authority has served to obscure the role class and race hierachies have played in the tragedy. Gary Younge, writing in the Guardian, reports,
While everyone here was hard hit by Katrina, not everyone was affected in the same way. The wealthy lost property on the seafront. But the lives and the livelihoods of the poor without cars to escape, sturdy homes to protect them and insurance to fall back on, were the most vulnerable.

In one of the poorest states in the country, where black people earn half as much as white people, this has taken on a racial dimension

"People who live in poverty and don't have the means to evacuate were definitely more likely to perish," said Michael Matthews, an African American who was nudging his car slowly up the four-hour queue for petrol in Lucedale.
This is a tragically familiar scenario; poverty also exacerbated the plight of those caught up in last year's Asian Tsunami.

While there isn't enough evidence to make a categorical statement that Hurrican Katrina was caused by global warming, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that climate change is likely to increase the destructive power of such storms. The upshot of which is that if we continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can expect similar destruction to happen more often. No longer can those of us in the First World allow ourselves to be lulled into believing that climate change is only a problem for the Third. Quite apart from the effect of widespread population movements and water wars we may get hit as well.

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