August 29, 2014 Djuan Coleon

Hurricane Katrina: A Man-made Disaster


Today marks the 9th anniversary of the tragedy that is Hurricane Katrina which devastated the lower 9th ward area. The picture above is a view from the exact area where the levee broke which flooded the lower 9th ward. I went there as a part of a consortium of HBCUs, hosted by Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. The conference serves as a call-to-action for students and faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to become engaged in the conversation around climate change and environmental justice. What we were shown was how Hurricane Katrina was a man-made disaster in the making by years of disregard for the environment as well as the ecological systems in the area.   


Hurricane Katrina was not the first hurricane to ever hit the area, the ecosystem had a natural defense against hurricanes which was mainly the trees. Trees were a natural barrier that would stop the forces of rising water from flooding into the communities. Once the trees were systematically removed and not replaced the natural ecosystem was destroyed and thus the communities (mostly black) were left exposed to flood waters. The winds from Hurricane Katrina did not destroy the lower 9th Ward it was the flood waters that overwhelmed the levees.  If the natural barriers were in place you would not have seen the devastation that we saw during Katrina. A lot of blame was placed on the people who did not leave in aftermath of the hurricane but nobody cared to holistically look at the causes. The picture above is of the new efforts to try and plant new trees in the swamps and marshes of Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle. Why did they clear out the trees? Well in the 1960’s when the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was constructed to create increases routes for shipping, that one “advancement” set the whole ecosystem and environment back because it allowed salt water to get into the Bayou which killed the trees that were living in a freshwater ecosystem and environment. Economically the area that once supported a local fishing economy died off with the trees and the contamination of the environment. Businesses and livelihoods were lost in the process. This is why it is critically important that we always look at situations holistically. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed this kind of challenge in his book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community”

So much of modern life can be summarized in that suggestive phrase of Thoreau: “Improved means to an unimproved end.” This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem, confronting modern man. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul” – Dr. Martin Luther King

As we look to transition our cities into “Smart Cities”, we cannot be so rushed or enchanted with the technological wizardry and the projected benefits of new technologies and innovations that we do not consider the impact those advances will have on all stakeholders in every community. As we look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it is indeed a classic example of “improved means to an unimproved end”

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