[URBANTH-L]In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Judith Whitehead whitja01 at uleth.ca
Mon Sep 5 18:37:41 EDT 2005

   I have just returned from fieldwork in Mumbai and was in a suburb of
the University of Mumbai, Kalina, that became an island during the
flood there starting on July 26th.
   Riveted to the news about New Orleans, I am struck by the similarities
between the two situations:
1. The forewarnings that urban development in northern Mumbai, including
the construction of the Bandra-Kurla commercial complex, were choking
natural drainage, were illegal and were creating a 'disaster waiting to
happen'.  This were similar forewarnings that the existing levee system in
New Orleans was inadequate and was a 'disaster waiting to happen.'
2. The inadequate and very tardy response of the state in both cases.  In
Mumbai, the civic administration collapsed for 3-4 days.  State
administration also collapsed in New Orleans.
3. When the 'state' finally responded, it did so first to 'restore order',
i.e. in its repressive rather than its social welfare capacities.  In
Mumbai, angry residents of affected colonies such as Malad and the Air
INdia colony started stoning officials of the BMC (Brihamumbai Municipal
Corporation) when power was not restored after 3 days.  In New Orleans,
the desparation and insecurity led to what the newspapers referred to
ethnocentrically as 'looting.'  It was only after street demonstrations in
Mumbai that one even saw any police on the streets.  They were nowhere
during the flood, nor were there any traffic cops to tell people where not
to go, as only certain sections and roads of central and northern Mumbai
were flooded and many deaths could have been prevented through effective
traffic management.
4. The role of local radio stations in becoming the effective control
centres during the flood.  In Mumbai, it was local FM stations such as
Radio Mirchi which fielded calls from stranded commuters and residents,
which provided news to relatives of those affected and which alerted the
administration to areas that were still flooded.  The same role seems to
have been played by local media in New Orleans.
    All this points to the failures of the 'neoliberal' state in both
cases to provide emergency measures in a timely fashion,preparedness
and social sustainability both before, during and after the
'disaster'...states that are oriented to attracting private investment
to their urban areas, to cutting back on public health measures and
urban planning are not in a position to provide their citizens with
the basic measures that provide some security and dignity to all, no
matter what their 'race', income, or age.
    I must say, however, that the mainstream print media in Mumbai was far
more active in criticizing the failures of the administration than our
North AMerican media have been.

Yours truly,
Judy Whitehead
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge AB T1K 3M4
TH 218
Tel: 329-2011

> Dear Colleagues,
> I am forwarding two documents below: 1) an immediate call by the NSF for
> small grants for exploratory research on the aftermath of Hurricane
> Katrina,
> and 2) a call for action from a coalition of New Orleans social
> organizations which addresses educators and universities.
> I would also like to open URBANTH-L for comments from anyone who wishes to
> discuss the events surrounding the hurricane, the future of New Orleans,
> or
> the treatment of poor and minority residents during the disaster.
> Angela Jancius
> ++++++++++++
> Immediate call by NSF for SGER Proposals for research in fields
> of science, engineering and education.
> The National Science Foundation (NSF) is requesting immediate submission
> of proposals for Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) regarding
> the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  The SGER program is designed to
> allow investigators to write brief proposals for funding up to $200,000
> for 1 to 2 years; promising a very short turn-around time to address
> research topics that are relevant to the victims of Hurricane Katrina
> (attachment contains further information).
> This call is being sponsored by the Human and Social Dynamics
> Initiative, which is a cross-cutting initiative.  Its primary
> description follows:
> The Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area fosters breakthroughs
> in understanding the dynamics of human action and development, as well
> as knowledge about organizational, cultural, and societal adaptation and
> change.  HSD aims to increase our collective ability to (1) anticipate
> the complex consequences of change; (2) understand the dynamics of human
> and social behavior at all levels, including that of the human mind; (3)
> understand the cognitive and social structures that create, define, and
> result from change; and (4) manage profound or rapid change, and make
> decisions in the face of changing risks and uncertainty.  Accomplishing
> these goals requires multidisciplinary research teams and comprehensive,
> interdisciplinary approaches across the sciences, engineering,
> education, and humanities, as appropriate.
> If you have questions regarding this call for proposals please contact
> your NSF program officer immediately.
> ++++++++++++
> Initiates A People's Hurricane Fund
> Not until the fifth day of the federal government's
> inept and inadequate emergency response to the New
> Orleans' disaster did George Bush even acknowledge it
> was 'unacceptable.' 'Unacceptable' doesn't begin to
> describe the depth of the neglect, racism and classism
> shown to the people of New Orleans. The government's
> actions and inactions were criminal. New Orleans, a
> city whose population is almost 70% percent black, 40%
> illiterate, and many are poor, was left day after day
> to drown, to starve and to die of disease and thirst.
> The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the
> night, scattering across this country to become
> homeless in countless other cities while federal relief
> funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels,
> chemical plants and the wealthy white districts of New
> Orleans like the French Quarter and the Garden
> District. We will not stand idly by while this disaster
> is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with
> newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New
> Orleans.
> Community Labor United (CLU), a coalition of the
> progressive organizations throughout New Orleans, has
> brought community members together for eight years to
> discuss socio-economic issues.  We have been
> communicating with people from The Quality Education as
> a Civil Right Campaign, the Algebra Project, the Young
> People's Project and the Louisiana Research Institute
> for Community Empowerment.  We are preparing a press
> release and framing document that will be out as a
> draft later today for comments.
> Here is what we are calling for:
> * We are calling for all New Orleanians remaining in
> the city to be evacuated immediately.
> * We are calling for information about where every
> evacuee was taken. We are calling for black and
> progressive leadership to come together to meet in
> Baton Rouge to initiate the formation of a Community
> Oversight Committee of evacuees from all the sites.
> This committee will demand to oversee FEMA, the Red
> Cross and other organizations collecting resources on
> behalf of our people.
> * We are calling for volunteers to enter the shelters
> where our people are and to assist parents with
> housing, food, water, health care and access to aid.
> * We are calling for teachers and educators to carve
> out some time to come to evacuation sites and teach our
> children.
> * We are calling for city schools and universities near
> evacuation sites to open their doors for our children
> to go to school.
> * We are calling for health care workers and mental
> health workers to come to evacuation sites to
> volunteer.
> * We are calling for lawyers to investigate the
> wrongful death of those who died, to  protect the land
> of the displaced, to investigate whether the levies
> broke due to natural and other related matters.
> * We are calling for evacuees from our community to
> actively participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans.
> * We are calling for the addresses of all the relevant
> list serves and press contacts to send our information.
> We are in the process of setting up a central command
> post in Jackson, MS, where we will have phone lines,
> fax, email and a web page to centralize information.
> We will need volunteers to staff this office.
> We have set up a People's Hurricane Fund that will be
> directed and administered by New Orleanian evacuees.
> The Young People's Project, a 501(c)3 organization
> formed by graduates of the Algebra Project, has agreed
> to accept donations on behalf of this fund.  Donations
> can be mailed to:
> The People's Hurricane Fund c/o The Young People's
> Project 99 Bishop Allen Drive Cambridge, MA  02139
> If you have comments of how to proceed or need more
> information, please email them to Curtis Muhammad
> (muhammadcurtis at bellsouth.net) and Becky Belcore
> (bbelcore at hotmail.com).
> Thank you.
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