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Race, class, and Katrina : human rights and (un)natural disaster
School of Law Faculty Publications (2009)
  • Hope Lewis

This essay reflects on the international human rights implications of Hurricane Katrina. For those of us in the human rights movement, it seemed natural to see Katrina and its aftermath as both a massive international humanitarian disaster and a human rights crisis. This was not just the awful result of a huge storm having hit a densely populated area and thereby necessitating the marshalling of public and private humanitarian aid. It also revealed government inaction and affirmatively abusive actions before, during, and after the storm hit that implicate international human rights standards.

We know that Katrina was not the last disaster of such devastating proportions. The impact of global climate change, illegal dumping of toxic waste in poor neighborhoods and in the Global South, inequitable agricultural policies and high food prices, the privatization of water, and inadequate building standards, all play roles in causing natural and man-made disasters. As this chapter was going to press, the new U.S. administration under President Obama was also facing an economic crisis of global proportions. These events also teach us that such disasters need not be accompanied by the unnatural human rights disasters of abuse, neglect, and racial injustice.

  • Gulf Coast,
  • New Orleans,
  • Bush,
  • Hurricane Rita,
  • South Asian Tsunami,
  • poor,
  • people of color,
  • elderly,
  • racism,
  • International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  • Hyogo Declaration on Disaster Reduction,
  • African-Americans,
  • internally displaced persons,
  • International Covenant on Economic,
  • Social and Cultural Rights,
  • International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Publication Date
January 1, 2009
Publisher Statement

Originally published in Environmental Justice in the New Millennium: Global Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Human Rights, Filomina C. Steady, ed., New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp.233-251.

Citation Information
Hope Lewis. "Race, class, and Katrina : human rights and (un)natural disaster" School of Law Faculty Publications (2009)
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