Hurricane FEMA's aftermath in New Orleans
Quote:While the US government, the benevolent keeper of the world, spends millions of dollars each minute on spreading democracy by the sword, thousands of its citizens still suffer from the effects of a terrible disaster nearly three years after the Aug. 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi, has left thousands of people homeless and unemployed, forcing them to live in tent cities and trailer parks.
In all eagerness to sell themselves as compassionate protectors, top US echelons seem to have forgotten the Katrina victims, as their official response to the disaster has caused forced displacement in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Reconstruction has been painfully slow and housing remains an important problem in all areas lashed by Katrina. Tens of thousands of homeowners, denied collecting the money they thought insurers owed them, have not been able to restore their lives to pre-storm conditions.
Homeowner insurance policies typically cover damage from wind but not from flooding. After Katrina, local insurers conveniently argued that they should not have to pay claims, as in many cases the damage was caused by flooding. Their policies have also allowed them to deny compensation for damages caused by a combination of wind and flood.
In many areas there are still no hospitals, shopping options are limited, and there are not enough teachers. Broken streets and concrete blocks where houses once stood are a common sight and while life has begun to pick up in some neighborhoods, others are still abandoned.
According to one estimate, less than half the pre-storm population is back in New Orleans due to the shortage of affordable housing and the displacement of tens of thousands of these people is expected to be permanent. Residents are now poorer and more reliant on government services
A recent CHF report found that some 46,000 children affected by the natural disaster are still displaced and faced with medical, mental health and educational problems. While before Katrina public school enrollment in New Orleans was 66,372, the figure now stands at over 32,000, a 52 percent reduction.
According to census data, while the city's white population fell 36 percent, the African-American population of New Orleans, which was 67 percent before Katrina, has plummeted by 57 percent. The areas that are fully recovering are more affluent and predominately white.
It seems that in the land of equality, some are more equal than others, and the less equal in Katrina's aftermath are predominantly poor and African American.
The job market remains extremely unstable, wages have gone down and people do not get enough hours of work on a regular basis.
It is now evident that the emergency housing period for New Orleans and southeast Louisiana has stretched longer than anyone expected.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent over 120,000 trailers intended as temporary disaster shelters to the Gulf Coast in 2006. Shortly afterwards some of the occupants of these mobile homes began reporting headaches and nosebleeds.
In May 2007, FEMA officials dismissed findings by environmentalists that the trailers posed serious health risks, claiming that the trailers conformed to industry standards.
Following a November court order requiring FEMA to test for hazardous fumes, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tests revealed alarming levels of formaldehyde, a classified carcinogen or cancer-causing substance found in construction materials, in hundreds of FEMA trailers.
Formaldehyde is a colorless and highly toxic gas. Respiratory problems are an early sign of exposure, which may manifest as nose and throat irritation, chest pain and shortness of breath and wheezing, even in low concentrations of the substance.
Children are more susceptible to the respiratory effects of formaldehyde. Tens of thousands of children who survived Katrina, may now face lifelong health problems and will be in the prime of life in the 10 to 15 years doctors believe it takes cancer to develop.
While CDC initially announced that levels in some trailers were nearly 40 times the accepted exposure levels, they later denied their findings, claiming their study did not prove that people became sick from the fumes, as trailers are constructed with various materials and only formaldehyde had been tested for.
Some congressional Democrats have accused FEMA of manipulating scientific research in order to downplay the danger posed by toxic formaldehyde fumes in travel trailers.
Aside from the families living in six FEMA sites, several thousand other families are still living in trailers on private sites. It is estimated that more than 22,000 FEMA trailers are still being used in Mississippi and Louisiana.
There have been increasing demands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove people from toxic exposure, with the priorities being families with children, elderly people or anyone with asthma or other chronic conditions.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently decided to close its last six trailer parks in Louisiana. Many storm victims are eager to leave the cramped mobile homes, yet have nowhere to go.
While some FEMA trailer occupants will benefit from housing subsidies until March 2009, many residents lack alternatives, as they cannot prove where they lived before Katrina destroyed their homes. Once their promised extra month of government-subsidized shelter passes, these individuals will be left to struggle on their own.
The New Orleans homeless population, which doubled from pre-Katrina numbers to approximately 12,000 people, is expected to increase after the FEMA trailer sites across the Gulf Coast are closed.
A recent CNN report revealed that FEMA kept $85 million dollars worth of household items intended for Katrina victims in storage for two and a half years and later gave them away to other federal and state agencies despite being informed by charity groups struggling to house displaced New Orleans residents that they were in need of such supplies.
FEMA claims it gave away these items to 140,000 families in the Gulf as starter kits. When FEMA deemed that the need for these items was no longer present, keeping them in storage for an annual $1 million became unnecessary and therefore they were declared as federal surplus and given away to federal agencies such as prisons, post offices and border patrols.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is demolishing thousands of intact public housing apartments in an effort to reduce the number of the poor in New Orleans. HUD instead will spend nearly a billion dollars with questionable developers to end up with much less affordable housing.
UN officials have recently called for an immediate halt to the demolitions of public housing in New Orleans, saying demolition is a violation of human rights and will force predominately African-American residents into homelessness.
''The spiraling costs of private housing and rental units, and in particular the demolition of public housing, puts these communities in further distress, increasing poverty and homelessness,'' read a joint statement by UN experts in housing and minority issues. ''We therefore call on the federal government and state and local authorities to immediately halt the demolitions of public housing in New Orleans.''
The relocation of hundreds of thousands of mostly low-income and African-American families could alter the balance between the two major political parties in Louisiana and decrease opportunities for non-whites to become elected officials in New Orleans.
Those in pursuit of building a different New Orleans probably see this displacement as a success. It would help the Republicans who have fought for years to reduce the influence of the overwhelmingly Democratic New Orleans on statewide politics in Louisiana.
The Congress plans to spend $212 billion to finance the war in Iraq, $350 million of which will supposedly be spent on Iraqi refugees. This is while a mere $73 million has been allotted to help shelter physically and mentally disabled Katrina victims.
Despite domestic priorities, this bill will not only fund the war in Iraq through the first month of the next president's term, it will also provide the Jordanian army with $100 million and the Mexican army with $50 million.
There has been talk that the $2.9 billion in Katrina assistance may end up being cut from the budget. The US government has turned its back on the city that has seen its homeless population double since the 2005 disaster but is willingly spending billions on the war.
If the test of a government is how it supports its most vulnerable citizens, the US has definitely failed. Should the US government do unto others as it has done unto its own, then the rest of the world can also look forward to a toxic-trailer holiday.
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. - Che Guevara
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