The Irresponse to Hurricane Katrina: Strategies for Change

Hurricane Katrina’s Lower Ninth Ward victims were treated without dignity, respect, or justice. They were neglected before and during the crisis and still continue to be. People, especially Catholics, must take an active role in bettering the situation in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Catholics can continue to provide charity in the form of money, time, voice, or supplies. Homes still need to be rebuilt. This requires tools, building materials, and manpower. It also requires people speaking up about the situation in the Lower Ninth. Many people are unaware of the current circumstances of New Orleans. They see pictures of the French Quarter and Uptown and assume everything is back to normal. It is not! Less than half of the people residing in the Lower Ninth before the storm are back in their homes and services are still not present. Catholics need to inform others of the situation and ensure their government officials and their parish are doing something about it. Catholics make up approximately 25 percent of the population in the United States. They have a strong voice that they need to use to change the situation in the Lower Ninth Ward now and in preparation for the future.

Michael Eric Dyson says, “Charity is episodic and often driven by disaster. What is needed are structures of justice that perpetuate the goodwill intended in charity. Justice allows charity to live beyond crisis. Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public,” (Dyson 203). Dyson’s words are incredibly powerful in regards to the Lower Ninth. Not only do Catholics need to do as Jesus taught and provide charity to those in the Lower Ninth, they also need to instill justice there. Structures and institutions that promote justice provide a foundation for more justice in the future. They also greatly decrease the need for charity.

The Catechism states, “Among the areas of the social commitment of the laity, service to the human person emerges as a priority. […] Fostering a social and political culture inspired by the Gospel must be an area of particular importance for the lay faithful,” (CSDC #552, #555). It does not exclude clergy, but stresses the importance of lay members of the Church promoting the dignity of each and every human person.

What does this look like in the Lower Ninth Ward?

1. Getting information out earlier
The government and media must provide the public with access to accurate information as soon as they have it. People’s lives are more important than others’ images. Rather than waiting until the last minute to put out a mandatory evacuation because it was without precedent, the government should be cautionary. They should keep the poor in mind and realize that not everyone can hop in their car (or even has one to hop into) when a mandatory evacuation is released within a day of a disaster.

2. Knowing which residents need help and where they are
St. Charles Parish provided a great example. Parish employees knew exactly where elderly and disabled community members were. They went directly to their houses and helped them evacuate. Additionally, St. Charles Parish employees went door to door on Sunday to inform everyone of the mandatory evacuation.

3. Have a better bussing system
If New Orleans intends to use the Superdome as a refuge again, the city needs to provide a better bussing system for those without a means to escape. The city should tell residents in advance where the pick up locations will be. Additionally, they should create more pick up locations throughout the city for people who cannot walk long distances. New Orleans also has the benefit of its street cars, which it did not utilize for evacuation. The street cars run fairly often. City officials or those who cannot leave the city can operate the street cars to transport people to pick up locations.

4. Networking with NGOs and other cities
Katrina victims remained in the atrocious conditions of the Superdome for far too long. There was bus access and places to transport the people in the Superdome soon after the hurricane. Yet, victims remained in the dire conditions of the Superdome for a week before they were evacuated. The Katrina diaspora scattered people across the United States, which helped take some of the burden off of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Houston, but also created confusion for displaced Katrina victims. In the event of another disaster, U.S. cities, states, and non-profits should work together to place families and friends in the same locations. Additionally, there should be a comprehensive database of displaced persons’ names and locations that goes online immediately. There were numerous databases of missing persons after Katrina, but many did not go up on the web for weeks or months after the storm. People had much difficulty finding their loved ones or getting in touch with them after the storm.

5. Realizing that these are bandaid solutions to a much deeper problem rooted in classism and failure to recognize and promote the dignity of each individual
The four above suggestions are merely bandaid solutions to a much deeper problem: the huge disparity between the rich and the poor that has created injustices for the poor community. Catholics must promote justice for the dignity of each and every person. They must work for justice within their own communities, but are also responsible for being aware of injustices and promoting justice around the world as well. This entails promoting social and political structures that provide justice for every member and outcast of society. Where these structures fall short, Catholics should provide charity in the short term, and work toward social and political structures that provided more justice for the future.

Social Analysis
Theological Reflection
Works Cited