Home > Uncategorized > Vulnerability and Risk: New Orleans vs. Haiti

Vulnerability and Risk: New Orleans vs. Haiti

In 2006, director Spike Lee gave us a powerful look into the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans with his documentary, “When the Levees Broke”. Five years later, the follow up film “If God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” brings us back to the home of the recently crowned Super Bowl champs to see their recovery progress. Unfortunately, we discover that underneath all the football excitement remains a community and city that are still very much wounded. The film chronicles the struggles endured by the city’s inhabitants after all the floodwater drained, FEMA left, and the rest of the world went on with their lives, specifically focusing on those that call the Ninth Ward of New Orleans home. The film was a continuation of stories depicting the hope and heartbreak felt by those still displaced by, suffering from, and recovering from Katrina. But, the most interesting part of the film for me came towards the end, when Spike Lee centered on the recent earthquake in Haiti and in which he likened the devastation endured by the citizen of Haiti to that of the people of New Orleans, which I believe is a good comparison in terms of environmental justice, but not in magnitude.

There are comparisons that can be made between the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in regards to their exposed locations, social vulnerability, and the unequal distribution of aid. In New Orleans, the Ninth Ward was hit the hardest and was also the most unprepared and socially vulnerable. This caused immense devastation that only got worse after the storm. The Ninth Ward is a predominantly low-income, African American and other non-white individual’s community, who did not have or were not given the necessary means to bounce back after the Hurricane, such as insurance, mortgage relief, and compensation for damages. Because of the claimed racial bias in aid distribution, many inhabitants have still not been able to come back home. Haiti is an African American nation and one of the poorest countries in the world and was subject to environmental racism in the distribution of resources even before the earthquake.

However, there are also some differences. In the aftermath of Katrina, the New Orleans government was in charge of all the money donated for relief. This gave the government the power to do what they wanted with the money and the Ninth Ward was often ignored with regards to the distribution of capital. On the other hand, the Haitian government was not in control of any relief money, leaving it up to the NGO’s and other volunteers.

Finally, despite some of the similarities, Haiti was incredibly more devastated. While New Orleans saw 1100 people die in Katrina, Haiti lost hundreds of thousands of people. Haiti was in distress prior to the earthquake with most of its citizens living in tightly concentrated slums. So, although Haiti received an out pour of support, it could never be enough. Bottom line, New Orleans had something to rebuild, while the Haitians were just trying to survive. 

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