Who is planning for the long-term?

by Suw on

What's happened in New Orleans this week has been a complete disgrace. The American government should be ashamed of itself for callously allowing the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable people to starve, dehydrate and die in the stricken city. Questions are now being asked in the blogosphere and the press about why a federal response has taken so long, but so far the stuff I've seen coming out of the American government and press about rebuilding remains deluded.
Anyone who's seen the results of even a small flood will know how long it takes to clean up afterwards. Houses that were sound before get torn down afterwards because they are uninhabitable. And that's only from a few feet of water.
With 80% of New Orleans underwater and much of the city structurally damaged, no one is going to be able to go back there to live for months and months. Much of it will have to be torn down. Houses that have been up to their eaves in water, and which may remain drowned for another three months yet, are simply not going to be habitable once the water's gone.
Mould will set in immediately, giving off toxic spores which will stay in the wood and start growing every time that wood gets damp. Bacteria will spread. The sewerage and chemicals will impregnate every bit of wood and give off toxic fumes. The wood itself will swell, breaking every joint. Plaster and plasterboard will disintegrate. Plywood will de-laminate and come apart. Wooden houses will have to be torn down.
Brick-built houses will have to be dried out and wooden floors, ceilings, windowframes, roofs replaced. Plaster will have to be stripped and replaced. The bricks and concrete will have to be dried using dehumidifiers – it takes one dehumidifier of average size to dry out one room of average size, and you'd have to seal the house because otherwise all you're doing is dehumidifying the atmosphere (and NO is not the driest place in the world at the best of times). There aren't going to be enough dehumidifiers in America to dry out all of the city.
All the electrics will have to be replaced, heating systems, gas fires and cookers, fridges, lighting. Everything will be ruined by the water. Obviously all furniture will have to be thrown out – the chemicals and sewerage will have penetrated and irreparably everything.
Houses which do survive will be shells, but the majority of the flooded buildings will not be saved. It really is not just a case of draining the city and then having a bit of a wash down and redecorate – it's a case of tearing down what's left and starting again from scratch. And that's going to take a very, very long time.
Yet no one seems so far to be talking about where you are going to house all the refugees whilst this happens. Who is going to feed them for the months and months that they will be displaced? Who's going to educate the children? Who's going to provide work for the adults? How are they going to keep people's spirits up?
Bush and the other officials have to stop talking in terms of weeks, and start being more honest about the impact that this disaster is really going to have. If it takes three months to fix the levees and drain the city, how long is it going to be after that before any place is habitable? How are the authorities going to deal with people coming back to the city before the city is ready? How will they stop people moving into dwelling that should be condemned and torn down? If people do move back into the city before the clean up has been finished, they will get sick – the public health threat is massive.
If the American government thinks that the situation is improving, and that it's all downhill from here, well, they just aren't thinking far enough ahead.
So what could be done? It's a massive humanitarian and economic disaster and it's going to take some considerable strength of character to get through it. A good place to start would be to find a location, immediately, for a temporary city – New New Orleans, if you like. Get in the contractors to build it, but make them train and employ the displaced inhabitants of Old New Orleans so that they have jobs and an income, as well as somewhere half-decent to live. (A tent city is not going to cut the mustard, not for the time people might be there.) Then when New Orleans is drained, employ those same people to work on fixing it up.
This is exactly the sort of tactic used after natural disasters in the developing world – get local people involved in rebuilding their own town, give them work, an income, and a feeling of doing something worthwhile and valuable. What America absolutely must not do is parachute in a bunch of contractors from other parts of the country who do all the work, earn all the money, and leave the people from NO to fester.
The government has to think about what's best for the individuals of New Orleans on a day-to-day and ongoing basis and what's best for the communities within which they now life, not what's best for the Government, the contractors or industry.

Anonymous September 3, 2005 at

Great set of points, Suw. Glad you're coming back from 'real' work occasionally to offer such essays. Now the question … how to cause the right approach to begin happening.

Anonymous September 4, 2005 at

What America absolutely must not do is parachute in a bunch of contractors from other parts of the country who do all the work, earn all the money, and leave the people from NO to fester.

I've got a sneaking suspicion this is exactly what's going to happen… Prove me wrong Mr. Bush, et alii.

Anonymous September 4, 2005 at

While I can understand the criticism of Bush and Co about the Katrina disaster, I think the real problem lies with the endemic US attitude of ?we?re the superpower, we?re right, so we don?t need contingency plans just in case we?ve get things wrong?.
Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico are not exactly unknown; Katrina was originally forecast as one the most serve hurricanes, so surely the State or the Federal governments should have had some sort of emergency plans for various scales of disaster. Yet it seems to me that the politicians had no initial idea of how to confront and manage the magnitude of the crisis and resorted to ?make it up as we go along? mode.
The complications (far too trivial a word) in Iraq, the un-preparedness for 9/11 and its aftermath and now Katrina along with many more examples since WWII, can be explained, in my opinion, by an increasingly tunnel vision about the ?faultlessness? of US philosophy.
Maybe, just maybe, this disaster may make the majority of Americans (whom I adore individually) think about their vulnerability.

Anonymous September 5, 2005 at

Frankly while Bush and Co deserves someresponsibility I am far more concerned local and state officials are left off the hook. They had access to 350+ city buses and a number of school buses that they let sit and did nothing to help the poorest evacuate. Yahoo had a great picture of 50-60 buses sitting in pools of water on the 1st that they could have used when evacuations become manditory. It's a problem City, State, Feds officials have been ignoring for 20-40 years (depending on whose number you use) so there is alot of blame to spread around.

Anonymous September 5, 2005 at

What I am worried about is that if Bush & Co. do fly in the contractors and leave the newly indigent to rot they will have an extremely volatile situation on their hands.
Dissalusionment with authority is the fuel of revolution.
And with such a large amount of gun ownership in the US a new civil war is not as extreme or outlandish as you might assume.
As the old saying goes “The south will rise again”.
Fingers crossed that they do the right thing and, as you say, follow the sucessful examples set in third world countries.

Anonymous September 5, 2005 at

Well even though the Bush goevrnment has refused foreign offers of aid, I hear the people of the South are in good hands with Halliburton awarded to recovery contract.

Anonymous September 5, 2005 at

Quote: “What's happened in New Orleans this week has been a complete disgrace. The American government should be ashamed of itself for callously allowing the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable people to starve, dehydrate and die in the stricken city. Questions are now being asked in the blogosphere and the press about why a federal response has taken so long, but so far the stuff I've seen coming out of the American government and press about rebuilding remains deluded.

You know who should be ashamed are the american cattle being herded into these types of beliefs by the media. It was a hurricane! The 'planning' came in the form of levies, which unfortunately gave way. There is not much you can do for such a disaster.
Another was EVACUATION, in which these people had plenty of warning and time to leave. The argument for that is “well.. they've been through so many hurricanes that they just didn't take this one as serious as they should have” My answer: Better safe than sorry. If you think the 'inconvenience' of a false alarm is worth your life then that's your decision and you need to take responsibility for it. Or how about the excuse “Some of them didn't have a way out” My answer: … c'mon. Get serious. How long did they have? No car?? Start walking. I doubt there were 0 good samaratins heading the same way who might have offered a ride, given the chance to do so.
How dare you even suggest being ashamed of the government for … how did you put it… “callously allowing the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable people to starve, dehydrate and die in the stricken city.” How about being ashamed of the people of New Orleans who are taking advantage of such a travesty and raping the women, looting the stores for greed, and shooting at their rescuers! The army national guard was there to start rescue efforts as soon as it was safe for them to do so.. or so they thought. Then the corruption in New Orleans spread to drive them away! And you want to blame them? For what?! For not forseeing this and having urban warfare combatants ready and waiting behind the front lines? How could you expect something like that? Your own countrymen, who you signed up to risk your life for, betraying you.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, I am saying that the all-mighty media DOESNT give you the whole story. There are so many factors to consider when deploying any kind of rescue mission. It is obvious that no one in here has served in the military or actually listens to their friends and family who are in the military or you would understand this.
I live in Alabama and just because I am not 6 feet underwater doesn't mean I haven't witnessed first-hand quite a bit of the destruction hurricanes can cause. In the other southern states, events like this brought us together to help each other and keep each other's morale up. Instead, this time Americans have latched on to only the negative blame game that makes them lose sight of the truth and made the situation worse. Shame on you, if you are feeding this ignorance and you still call yourself a patriot.

Anonymous September 6, 2005 at

Um? Suw is British.
I am not sure if she is a patriot or not, but even if she was, it would not change the comments she has made here.
Her assertion is not that Bush & Co. are to 'blame' for the hurricane.
But they should be held responsible for the lack of an appropriate or immediate response.
After the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean the US, and others, had aid being dropped into the worst affected regions within 48 hours.
It took almost a week before aid was dropped into New Orleans.
Does the US President care more about foreigners than his own people?
It is true that most people do not know how to plan for disaster, but the amazingly prompt response that the military had to the Tsunami, which was totally unexpected unlike this hurricane, gave us a taste of an appropriate and compassionate response.
People have got angry because in an area where bad hurricanes are common, there were seemingly no contingency plans, and a seemingly apathetic response.
As for some people not having a way out.
The city busses were still in their depots.
If the city, state and federal authorities had actually cared enough for the poor who could not afford to escape, and could not find a good samaritan, then they would have used these busses to get people out of there.
They didn't.
What does that tell you about their compassion for their fellow man?

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