Katrina: Extraordinary Letter From the CFR Global Health Program

Across the region we have some of the worst poverty in America, and most of that poverty has a black face. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana: these are states that consistently, since the Civil War, have ranked in the bottom five states in America for virtually every social achievement, from education and infant mortality to police corruption. Government, for many of the region’s poor, has had one of two faces: corruption or overt neglect. New Orleans has had one of the highest murder rates in the nation for decades and a notoriously corrupt police force. In our experience dealing with catastrophes and epidemics overseas, there is a DIRECT correlation between the historic relationship between government and its people, and the willingness of the populace to believe in and correctly respond to government instructions. Of course tens of thousands of people failed to evacuate: why believe the government this time? And of course those folks who are slowly starving and baking in New Orleans assume that government has abandoned them.

… none of the people now trapped in New Orleans or wandering around in shock along the Mississippi/Alabama coastal communities have any idea what is going on. They have no electricity, and therefore no television or radio. Information is entirely rumors. When reporters interview them, these desperate souls are grilling the journalists for news. This means that the comfort of observed leadership is completely absent. No matter what the Mayor of New Orleans says, his people cannot hear him. They do not see the vast destruction. I doubt more than a handful of the folks trapped inside New Orleans at this moment have any idea how massive the damage to the Gulf Coast is.

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