Many of the same challenges and consequences we learned after Katrina have re-emerged, but with each hurricane and natural disaster we learn new lessons as well. How we, collectively as a country, respond to these warnings will set a course as we accommodate to the weather volatility that comes with a changing climate.
Here are the factors we must urgently consider:
Climate change is exacerbating the effect of weather
For our city and country to be truly resilient, we need more than levees holding back water and wetlands protecting us from storms; we must strike a balance between human needs and the environment that surrounds us while also combating the chronic stresses of violence, poverty and inequality.
Poor, vulnerable populations are hit hardest
“Who is affected more when it’s cold? Poor people. Who is affected more when it’s hot? Poor people. Who is affected more when it’s wet? Poor people. Who is most affected when the economy is bad? Poor people. Poor people are the most fragile.”
Of the many communities being affected right now, the poor face the greatest hurdles. They will need more help and for longer. Add in other elements such as extreme heat, loss of electricity, poor water quality, special insurance and you are adding more and more to an already full plate.
Until we collectively deal with economic and racial equity, we will continue to grapple with historically marginalized communities being disproportionately hit over and over.
To rebuild stronger, we need to learn from mistakes
The recovery from Hurricane Ida, like our long journey after Katrina, will take time. It will also take a commitment from the federal government, along with states, cities and communities, to reinvest and rebuild in smarter ways. We often get caught up in the daily tasks, but there are important threads to consider — of lessons learned (and not learned), from Hurricane Katrina to the Great Recession, to Covid-19 and more, depending on where you live. All exposed a different weakness, whether physical infrastructure or social infrastructure. Each on their own could be viewed as an aberration. However, looking back at the overall arc, one must conclude that the greatest superpower on the planet, the United States, has lost so much because it refuses to learn from the past. I learned in kindergarten that we could not continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. We will need those in Washington to remember that fundamental lesson as well.
While natural disasters and systemic inequity continue to shape the South, we determine our path forward. Ida will not be the last storm and certainly not our last challenge. No one should be surprised that the people of Louisiana refuse to bow down or be beaten by a storm or a virus. Through it all, we will continue taking care of each other.
Cleanup has already begun, and we will power through with a helping hand and an open heart until we can all get back on our feet. We have been here before. We’ll be here again. Hurricane Ida has shown us again that we are all connected and truly better together, creating a stronger South and nation. We will come back and write our story — a better story, together.