Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana

In 2004 Louisiana had applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a hurricane contingency plan, and were denied. Subsequently, FEMA did offer a private company a $1 million contract to review the area, with no concrete preparations achieved. When the hurricane hit, it was especially damaging because of insufficient water levees and transport infrastructure that was unable to evacuate people quickly enough.

Fourteen days after the hurricane, the Heritage Foundation think tank met to discuss responses. Their recommendations are shocking: suspend wage laws, remove corporate tax, wave numerous regulations, open charter schools in place of destroyed public schools. These would supposedly help stimulate economic healing in the area and the most rapid return to normal life. In truth, such reforms (and many were put in place) had been discussed previously, while the disaster merely provided necessary cover.

The facts fit Klein's narrative unimaginably well, as reconstruction firms that worked in Iraq - Halliburton, Blackwater, Shaw, Bechtel - all gained contracts in Louisiana because of their experience. They claimed they were prepared to help in Louisiana because they had contributed so much in Iraq that the reconstruction effort there was slowing down!

What predictably followed was the 'same overspending, underachieving, and cheating' as happened in Iraq. For example, rather than open bidding, closed door dealings meant AshBritt gained a contract to remove debris, despite not owning a single dump truck. Millions of dollars disappeared into a slow and ineffective reconstruction effort. Partly as a result of this spending, the 2005 government budget slashed student loads, social aid, and food stamp programs, once again hurting the poor and disenfranchised. The public service was slashed due to lack of funding as millions of dollars ended up in private hands with minimal positive result.

Lesson learned: The flood enabled the Heritage Foundation’s surprising recommendations. And because of the damage to oil refineries in the region, environmental regulations were at this time slackened to allow oil refiners in the Gulf Coast and Arctic, which had previously been rejected. This demonstrates the impunity with which parts of industry and government believe they can reap the benefits from a crisis or disaster. Disaster capitalism allows free market interests myriad benefit from either a planned crisis or a natural disaster, bringing about otherwise impossible changes as the population recovers from shock and struggles to rebuild a life. It doesn't matter where on earth or in what country, the same holds true.

6 comments:

  1. The southern Louisiana coast is marshy and not heavily populated, but has been suffering heavy erosion for many years as underlying muds subside, and tens of square kilometres of marsh are replaced by open ocean annually.
    Katrina's wind-driven waves are also likely to carve away large chunks of the vulnerable marsh, and may obliterate some coastal towns.
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