New Orleans is not Haiti

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Ever since the Haiti earthquake happened, it has invited quite a few comparisons to the disaster brought about in New Orleans by the federal flood. There are even those in the mainstream media who have asked if this quake is going to turn out to be Obama’s “Katrina.”

This is not surprising because there are some similarities in the situations–for example, the slowness in rescuing and getting aid to the survivors–which reminds casual observers of the way New Orleanians had to wait a week for food, water and rescue after her levees failed. Also, these catastrophes are manmade–Haiti’s because of shoddily-constructed buildings, New Orleans’ because of poorly-built and maintained levees–both of which had been disasters waiting to happen.

But there the superficial similarity ends. Says John McQuaid, such a comparison is wrong-headed:

This is a dangerous comparison not only because Haiti is not New Orleans, but because New Orleans is not Haiti. Yes, Louisiana has more than its share of corruption, poverty and social dysfunction. But to liken it to Haiti is to buy into the insidious notion that has plagued New Orleans before and after Katrina: that it is a geographical, cultural and demographic outlier, and thus irrelevant – and at worst not really part of America at all.

But New Orleans residents are American citizens. They vote, work, pay taxes. And America promised them basic protection from the elements, then failed them, and us all. Katrina exposed vulnerabilities not just in levees but in institutions. America should be able to fix these problems, but (at least it seems from the spotty post-K rebuilding effort) cannot. That signals more trouble for us down the road, trouble we seem determined to ignore. Identifying New Orleans with Haiti – whose problems are, at least in the short run, truly intractable – only makes it easier for Americans to maintain that willful ignorance.

It is high time the government started treating New Orleans like the American city she is, not some other country such as Haiti. Still-damaged parts of New Orleans such as the Lower 9th and Lakeview need to be rebuilt and there should be affordable housing for those who want to return but haven’t because of the high cost of housing.

Take a look at this video. The parts of the Lower 9th that are shown look like a ghost town, with desolate empty lots overgrown by windswept grass and weeds, boarded-up homes and buildings, very few cars, and no people:

This second video shows how people are still struggling after Katrina and the federal flood to put their lives back on track. It was shot during the Bush Administration, but I don’t imagine that things have changed much since then. It’s useful,  however, in showing how people in the Lower 9th feel about how they’ve been treated during and after the disaster–a way in which Americans shouldn’t be treated:

Another thing providing an obstacle to recovery by keeping exiled New Orleanians from returning is the healthcare situation. Charity Hospital, needed not only because of its treatment of the poor but also because it has a substantial trauma center, should be reopened.

It would be wasteful for Charity, a New Orleans icon, to be kept closed or to be torn down because it could be refurbished into a 21st-century hospital for far less than it would cost to build a replacement:

According to Carl Ginsburg,

It seems that in this land where one man’s demise is another’s opportunity, where the most vulnerable pay the most interest, where owner confidence trumps consumer confidence…  the loss of Big Charity presented a golden opportunity for some developers, builders and real estate speculators.  Louisiana State University (LSU), with the support of the state’s governor, the mayor, city council, and banking on FEMA funding, announced plans to build a new hospital, across the street from a proposed new VA hospital, the two together costing approximately $2 billion and due to open in 2013.  Experts say the opening would be closer to 2016.    That’s a long time from now, which translates into a lot of money to be had.  It is a bonanza for a few, an enduring disaster for many others.    

Never mind the huge price tag, or the years of delay.  Never mind the on-going loss of health care services to New Orleans residents.  Never mind the years lost for jobs and economic development.  Never mind that 70 acres of an historic 19th Century neighborhood, Lower Mid-City, is to be demolished for the new construction-much of it to be in the form of  surface parking lots.  

Never mind that homeowners and small businesses returned to Lower Mid-City to rebuild and resettle and will be swept out.   Says Mary Howell, civil rights lawyer and longtime New Orleans resident, “To deliberately tear down thriving, useful, productive, livable homes, businesses and cultural icons, many of which have historic and aesthetic value, leaving behind blocks of surface parking lots, is unforgivable.”  

What’s going on in Louisiana–and will be in Haiti if it hasn’t begun already–is disaster capitalism at its worst. It is unfortunate that the powers that be in Washington have so much on their plate right now that they can’t oversee the proper rebuilding of New Orleans, whose people have no special-interest groups sticking up for them. Nor do they have inside-the-beltway lobbyists who can, by promising hefty campaign contributions, pull for national attention to the plight of New Orleans and the members of her diaspora who wish to return. So it’s up to bloggers to stand up and make their voices heard for New Orleans.

Crossposted from Daily Kos


  1. Haiti may in time come out far better than NO.  The world is no longer US centric.

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