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Hurricane of Inhumanity: Five Years after Katrina

By       Message Mamoon Alabbasi     Permalink
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Five years after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans -a natural disaster with unnatural responses -led to the death of an estimated 1,800 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others, the lesson has not yet been learned.

While US President Barack Obama acknowledged that the disaster was "a man-made catastrophe -a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, women and children abandoned and alone" he still missed the point, not only in New Orleans, but also in earthquake-wrecked Haiti and flood-hit Pakistan.

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The devastating outcome of the New Orleans catastrophe was not a case of mere government mismanagement, as some have put it, nor were the people of New Orleans to blame, as others bizarrely like to think. A number of factors played a part, all betraying sinister causes which in combination led to such outcome we all know.

Enemies of the state

Witness accounts show that there was almost a sense of official contempt for the people of New Orleans that often went beyond criminal negligence. Some residents felt that they were being treated like enemies in a war zone and not as Americans in distress.

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Those who remained, whether by choice or for lacking an option, were automatically perceived as "looters", and "looting" itself became the ultimate crime, second only maybe to terrorism. People who did not or could not (and in some cases were not allowed to) leave the scene were being shot at for daring to eat food from deserted shops just to stay alive.

Protecting businesses has become more important than saving lives, even though most of the products in those shops were doomed to destruction by the rising level of water that covered most of the city. Symbolically, it looked like a determination to protect the "market" even when trade has ceased, where the "capital" can perish as long as it does not reach the people in need.

But things went beyond shooting at suspected "looters" and treating people as if they were guilty of crimes that they were not even aware of. There was a sense of detachment from the suffering of those who were in urgent need of drinking water. There were many reported instances where the security forces had the opportunity to help, but preferred to do nothing or, worse, watch.

Poor infrastructure

Even today, there is still little mention of the poor infrastructure of New Orleans which magnified the effect of the hurricane. Apart from alternative media outlets such as 'Democracy Now!' and others, even less mention is given to those who might be held responsible.

As in Haiti, the impact of natural disasters would have been tremendously less had the proper infrastructure been in place. And as in Haiti, successive US government policies share a large portion of the blame.

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Toppling democracy in Haiti and placing a US-friendly government there meant American interests would be insured, not those of the Haitian people. But where was the interest of the American people in New Orleans?

When interviewing some of the audience of a moving play last year -'Katrina' by Jonathan Holmes (which was based on the accounts of six witnesses from New Orleans) - I discovered that people were shocked that such things happened to Americans. They were not at all surprised that the US authorities would act in such a manner but surely not against their own people.

The Iraq-God connection

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Mamoon Alabbasi (M.A. in applied linguistics) is a news editor and translator based in London. His Op-eds, reports, and reviews have appeared in a number of media outlets.

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