By Kayla Austin •
The aftermath of the natural disaster that was Hurricane Katrina is a display of the effects of environmental racism, redlining, and the neglection of people of color and those facing poverty. Katrina is one of the worst natural disasters to occur in the history of the United States. This natural disaster took place in New Orleans, and affected many lives and many communities, especially those with lower incomes. Impoverished citizens are already in a vulnerable position to begin with. The occurrence of a natural disaster harms citizens financially and emotionally. It is way more difficult for poorer citizens to rebuild and relocate. The occurrence of a hurricane as severe as Katrina hurt the impoverished community the hardest. They do not have the financial ability to recover from what hit them so hard. Katrina forced thousands of citizens to evacuate New Orleans. The more money one had the easier it was for them to make changes and recover. Mother nature isn’t racist though, she does not discriminate. But not everyone bears the same impacts from her. It is the systems that have held America in place that make it harder for certain people to rehabilitate their lives after a natural disaster. These systems have historically been a part of America for decades and they put people of color at a disadvantage. From here on out, the situation will only get worse.
In the United States, poverty is an issue that primarily effects people of color. Without money families are unable to evacuate their area in time. They simply cannot always afford to fly and move their families. They also face the conflict of not being able to obtain the resources they need to recover from the disaster. Those impoverished had a harder time getting out of New Orleans. Majority of those displaced moved to Houston Texas. Over 250,000 citizens (mainly people of color) were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and wound up seeking refuge at shelters, including the Astrodome sports stadium, in Houston. Katrina killed an estimated 1,800 people and caused more than $125 billion in damage. Barbara Bush’s infamous quote on the evacuee situation is a perfect display of the marginalization of people of color, and how they were not taken care of. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this is working very well for them. (Mercy News).” This shows Mrs. Bush trying to disregard those affected by the hurricane (primarily people of color). A reader can imply from her statement that the evacuees do not matter because they are underprivileged. She believes that because they are underprivileged, it is absolutely fine for them to stay in the arena, because they don’t know anything better. This showed her mindset and lack of compassion for those impoverished and colored. Many of the citizens whom were displaced and residing in shelters were expecting aid from the government, while going through such a rough time. They hoped America would have their back. The racial inequalities that exist in America were hoped not to be factors in the recovering process of this natural disaster. The poverty rate of African- Americans in New Orleans was extremely high at the time. African-Americans make up 60% of the population in New Orleans. Many of these citizens were facing poverty and “live in cheap neighborhood due do their lack of wealth”. The areas in which they lived were already not well maintained by the local government (before the hurricane). According to the “Centers for Disease Control” low income neighborhoods are more vulnerable to natural disasters.
Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is the movement’s response to environmental racism. Poor neighborhoods being the most affected by natural disaster are communities of color. The government continues to neglect the infrastructures in these communities. Therefore, this leads to impoverished citizens becoming extremely vulnerable to environmental hazards due to redlining that was held in place by federal home loan banks starting way back in the 1930’s. Redlining is often described as “segregation in a modernized form”. Redlining and housing discrimination was very prevalent in New Orleans. Companies used to take redlines into account when deciding where to place hazardous sites. Flood insurance is also often a conflict for impoverished people of color. African-Americans are less likely than whites to have insurance covering storm losses and temporary living expenses. African-Americans are also less likely than whites to receive insufficient insurance settlement amounts. The settlement of insurance claims has the ability to tarnish the black household’s ability to recover. This form of discrimination harms the wealth of individual households.
People of color already are the most effected community, when it comes to natural disasters. But at the rate we are going at, things will only get worse for not only people of color, but those impoverished also. At the time of Hurricane Katrina scientist had few ideas on what could have caused this natural disaster to occur. The only thing they knew was that earth’s temperatures were rising. As the earth’s temperatures rise sea levels rise also. This all due to global warming which has been taking place for years. The increasing temperature of the earth will cause many conflicts for countries. It has the ability to put people in poverty and turn them into refugees. It can harm livestock and the growth of food. Once it starts effecting food, prices get higher, this then effects an entire economy. Due to global warming, the intensity of hurricanes will rise with the sea levels, that are rising due to increasing temperatures. The increasing intensity of hurricanes and other natural disasters will diminish all the progress the world has made when combating extreme poverty. This progress will be taken aback. The rising sea levels will only exacerbate the world’s storm surge conflict. Katrina killed 1,200 people and caused more than $100 billion in damage. It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina occurred. There is still no straight forward answer to prove that global warming is what caused Katrina. The answer is flawed due to the “complexity of weather events and their relationship to climate”. But the one thing known for sure, is that the earth’s temperatures are rising, and causing sea levels to expand. According to the journal “Climate Change” Katrina’s impact on the Gulf Coast would have been way less damaging under the climate and sea level conditions on 1990 when storm surge would have been anywhere from 15-60 percent lower. The effects of climate change are getting worse. This affects everyone one earth, but not all of us are suffering the same consequences.
Climate change is a serious problem all around the world. It is caused by those in power, but the consequences are affecting the poor. Redlining has made climate change have extreme effects on those in poverty which were primarily people of color during the time of Katrina. The progress we have made while combating poverty will be taken aback, because climate change negatively influences ones income and spending, while trying to relocate and refurbish.
Collins, Courtney, ed. “HOW NATURAL DISASTERS CHALLENGE COMMUNITIES OF COLOR.” Kera News. Last modified August 2017. Accessed May 7, 2019. http://stories.kera.org/after-the-flood/2017/12/21/how-natural-disasters challenge-communities-of-color/. (very helpful)
Energy Justice Network, ed. “Environmental Justice / Environmental Racism.” EJ Net. Last modified unknown. Accessed May 6, 2019. https://www.ejnet.org/ej/. (monumental for definitions)
Esri. “Aftermath of Katrina: A Time of Environmental Racism.” Esri. Last modified August 17, 2015. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=2106693b39454f0eb0abc5c2dd f9ce40 . (great overview of the disaster)
Funes, Yessenia, ed. “5 Reasons Natural Disasters Really Screw Over People of Color.” Yessenia Funes. Last modified August 30, 2017. Accessed May 5, 2019. https://www.yosenia.com/la-calentura/posts/2017/8/29/5-reasons-natural-disasters-really-screw-over-people-of-color. (eye opening)
GFDRR. Last modified November 9, 2015. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=qgi1kemIm9g.
Gordon, Ed. “Race and Poverty After Hurricane Katrina.” NPR. Last modified September 28, 2005. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4867012. (very helpfiul)
Jones, Rachel, ed. “Foster Children Missing, Displaced After Katrina.” NPR. Last modified September 29, 2005. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4928796 . (a little helpful)
———, ed. “Foster Children Missing, Displaced After Katrina.” NPR. Last modified September 29, 2005. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4928796 . (not very helpful, but gave background)
Lee, Rep. Barbara, ed. “A Katrina Retrospective: Structural Inequality, Environmental Justice and Our National Discourse on Race.” Huff Post. Last modified September 1, 2010. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-katrina-retrospective-s_b_702911?guccounter=1 (not helpful).
Robertson, Campbell, and Richard Fausset. “10 Years After Katrina.” NY Times. Last modified August 26, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/26/us/ten-years-after-katrina.html. (eye opening)
Rocheleau, Matt, ed. “Houston home to thousands who were displaced from New Orleans after Katrina.” Boston Globe. Last modified August 28, 2018. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www3.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2017/08/28/houston-home-thousands-who-were-displaced-from-new-orleans-after-katrina/pM76J8zRMd0YmwjkC6Np2N/story.html?arc404=true. (not helpful)
Shapiro, Isaac, and Arloc Sherman. “Essential Facts About The Victims of Hurricane Katrina.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Last modified September 19, 2005. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://www.cbpp.org/research/essential-facts-about-the-victims-of-hurricane-katrina. (a little helpful
Thompson, Andrea. “10 Years Later: Was Warming to Blame for Katrina?” Climate Central. Last modified August 27, 2015. Accessed April 15, 2019. https://www.climatecentral.org/news/katrina-was-climate-change-to-blame-19377. (monumental for me)
West, Larry, ed. “The Environmental Impacts of Hurricane Katrina.” ThoughtCo. Last modified July 14, 2018. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/environmental-impacts-of-hurricane-katrina-1203688 . (extremely needed)
Worland, Justin, ed. “Why Climate Change Could Make Hurricane Impact Worse.” Time. Last modified August 27, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2019. http://time.com/4013637/climate-change-hurricanes-impact/ . (very alarming and needed)
Kayla Austin is a 16-year-old inventor and gun violence prevention activist.