Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015
Making development sustainable: The future of disaster risk management

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in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. Emergency management organizations at all levels were reportedly understaffed and under-resourced. But over and above institutional weaknesses and administrative failures, the disaster unveiled a history of inequality that configured the city’s vulnerability to the hurricane as well as the authorities’ response to it. In some ways, that history seems to have continued unchanged in the recovery of New Orleans, reproducing and rebuilding new vulnerabilities (Box 1.1).
Superficially, the disasters associated with the Indian Ocean tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina appear to be different moments in a common history of violent and destructive disasters: representations of overwhelming natural events causing massive death and destruction. But beneath the surface, the two disasters have very different narratives.
In many ways the Indian Ocean disasters were a representation of dis-astrum (Latin for “bad star”), the impact of an infrequent and unexpected natural event of extraordinary magnitude outside of human agency. In Timaeus, Plato commented:
There have been many and diverse destructions of mankind. We know this because we possess the records of those who witnessed the events and survived. Now the
stories as they are told have the fashion of a legend, but the truth of them lies in the shifting of the bodies in the heavens that recurs at long intervals.”
In the case of such extreme hazards, the degree of disaster risk is conditioned more by exposure than by vulnerability. In other words, all those exposed to the tsunamis were at risk, irrespective of their income, ethnicity or social class (UNISDR, 2011a

UNISDR. 2011a,Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Revealing Risk, Redefining Development, Geneva, Switzerland: UNISDR.. .
). The only possible disaster risk management strategies would have been to reduce exposure through timely evacuation, which in turn would have depended on the existence of reliable early warning systems and effective preparedness planning grounded in the exposed communities, and then to compensate for loss through insurance or other risk financing instruments.
In contrast, the disaster in New Orleans represented a predictable and tragic kata-strophe (Greek for “down-turn”), the tragic finish to a long drama. While Hurricane Katrina was an intense hurricane, it was the historically configured risk in New Orleans, the vulnerability of those left behind and the lack of effective actions to assist them that conditioned the scale of the disaster.
Box 1.1 Rebuilding social vulnerability in New Orleans
The failure of flood protection infrastructure, a failure to anticipate the disaster and a badly managed response exacerbated and magnified the pre-existing conditions of social vulnerability and inequality in New Orleans (Levitt and Whitaker, 2009

Levitt, Jeremy I. and Whitaker, Matthew C. 2009,Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again, Katrina and its Aftermath. Introduction. In Hurricane Katrina, America’s Unnatural Disaster. Edited and with an introduction by Jeremy I. Levitt and Matthew C. Whitaker. University of Nebraska Press.. .
; Tierney, 2006

Tierney, Kathleen. 2006,Social Inequality, Hazards and Disasters, Ch. 8. In On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, Ronald J. Daniels, Donald F. Kettl and Howard Kunreuther, eds. University of Pennsylvania Press.. .
; Amnesty International, 2010

Amnesty International. 2010,Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast, Amnesty International Demand Dignity Campaign. Washington, D.C.. .
; Masozera et al., 2007

Masozera, Michel, Melissa Bailey and Charles Kerchner. 2007,Distribution of impacts of natural disasters across income groups: A case study of New Orleans, Ecological Economics 63 (2007): 299-306. .

Subsequent to Hurricane Katrina, the reconstruction process, and within it the construction sector, have been key drivers in the reproduction of inequality and social vulnerability (Jenkins et al., 2012

Jenkins, Alan, Juhu Thukral, Kevin Hsu, Nerissa Kunakemakorn and Megan Haberle. 2012,Promoting Opportunity through Impact Statements: A Tool for Policymakers to Assess Equity, American Constitution Society Issue Brief. April 2012. Washington, D.C.. .
). In 2011, six years after the disaster, the average wage in New Orleans was 6 per cent lower than the US average and poverty stood at 29 per cent, almost double the US average of 15.9 per cent. Recent data shows that New Orleans ranks second among all major US cities in terms of inequality.
6 Between 1999 and 2011, median household income fell by 9 per cent, while income inequality had risen by up to 50 per cent (Bishaw, 2012

Bishaw, Alemayehu. 2012,Poverty: 2010-2011, American Community Survey Briefs. Issued: September 2012. United States Census Bureau.. .
; GNOCDC, 2013

GNOCDC (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center). 2013,The New Orleans Index at Eight: Measuring Greater New Orleans’ Progress Toward Prosperity, August 2013.. .
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