Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hurricaine Katrina anniversary : Racism and Profiteering

It is one year since Hurricaine Katrina wreaked devastation on New Orleans. The storm claimed over 1,600 lives, with the corpses still being found. Over 200,000 people have yet to return to New Orleans, accounting for roughly half the original population. Many of those are poor and many are black and raises alarming questions about the handling of the situation at all levels.

We remeber the racist reporting by the media at the time of the storm. How they framed white people as 'survivors' and black people as 'looters'. How the rich were airlifted to safety from hotels and bussed out of New Orleans, leaving the poor stranded for days on roof tops waiting to be rescued.

We remember George Bush saying ' Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job', referring to Michael Brown, a Bush appointed crony and the director of the federal disaster agency FEMA. He had no experience in this field and within days was sacked to due incompetence.

It is possible that much of the destruction and many of the deaths could have been avoided had FEMA and the US Government heeded expert advice rather than threaten the career of the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricaine Center, Dr. Ivor van Heerden.

According to van Heerden, there was no real evacuation plan made for New Orleans, although Innovative Energy Management (IEM) had drafted a plan involving people fleeing by car. 127,000 people in New Orleans had no car as van Heerden alerted FEMA. Rather thn responding, they threatened him. The consequences : 1,500 of them drowned. It doesn't take a genius to work out that these were working class, elderly and mainly black.

The levee had also been built 18 inches too short which would have meant that they would have been overtopped by one and a half hours instead of four. The levee's would have held and the city saved. FEMA knew that the levee's had been breached at 11 o'clock on Monday. By midnight, The White House knew. But no-one else did.

New Orleans has for a long time been a city divided by class and race and efforts seem to be afoot to exclude the working class from returning to the city. The planners for the next 30 years of the city seem to cater for the rich and middle classes as the proposals would not have included the traditionally black neighbourhoods.

We can see exactly who has been profiteering in New Orleans following Katrina and who has been handed multi million dollar contracts in this from CorpWatch :

The rebuilding and reconstruction has been a shambles to say the least. People are still waiting for federal rebuilding housing assisstance without yet receiving a cent. Rent has rocketed by 39% pricing the working class out of the market.Water and electricity supply remains poor and the black an working class population are suffering disproportionately.

The United Nations has blasted the poor US response to Katrina. The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva accepted a report from Special Reporter Arjun Sengupta, who visited New Orleans in fall of 2005 and concluded: "The Committee ... remains concerned about information that poor people, and in particular African-Americans, were disadvantaged by the rescue and evacuation plans implemented when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States of America, and continue to be disadvantaged under the reconstruction plans."

Asian tsunami relief workers who visited New Orleans over the summer were shocked at the lack of recovery. Somsook Boonyabancha, director of the Community Organisations Development Institute in Thailand, told Reuters she was shocked at the lack of progress in New Orleans. "I'm surprised to see why the reconstruction work is so slow, because this is supposed to be one of the most rich and efficient countries in the world. It is starting at such a slow speed, incredibly slow speed."

It is clear where priorities lie for the Bush administration. As the Katrina relief and reconstruction falters, money is being pumped into war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans have been able to fast track precison missiles to Israel in it's attempt to crush Hizbollah, crucial in the plan to attack Syria and Iran. But this is where America failed and Hizbollah triumphed. As the US and Israel lost the war despite destroying parts of Southern Lebanon and murdering over 1,000 civilians, Hezbollah began the reconstruction programme. They have cleared rubble, helped reconstruct roads and are giving financial aid to those whose homes have been destroyed.

As people remember the tragic events of Hurricaine Katrina, let us not forget where the responsibility lies.


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