In 2001, four years before Hurricane Katrina became the biggest natural disaster in American history, the federal government was notified of the increased likelihood of a major hurricane devastating the city of New Orleans. The warning was ignored.
Instead, the Bush administration slashed the city's flood control funding by more than 40 percent to pay for the war in Iraq. Now, months after Katrina crippled New Orleans and wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast, it seems Iraq may still be getting more of our government's attention than the Big Easy.
While it is ethical and just to help rebuild a country after you've destroyed it with war, your own citizens should not suffer as a result. It's been seven months since Katrina and the post-storm flooding devastated New Orleans' people, the city's way of life and the local economy. And, for seven months, the federal government has hemmed and hawed and not delivered any real plan for rebuilding the city. The government hasn't been able to keep up with current demands — such as housing needs for both local and displaced residents; it's no wonder they haven't been able to look to the future.
In Iraq, the U.S. government has created a public works project to create 1.5 million jobs, while no jobs program has been announced for New Orleans. Nearly half of the planned water projects and more than 70 percent of the electricity projects will be completed by the time the United States exits Iraq. In New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, water, electricity and sewage services have not been restored.
The Lower Ninth, a mostly Black and poor neighborhood, was hardest hit by post-Katrina flooding. Under U.S. leadership, the annual Iraqi income jumped from $500 to $1,200 a year, and Iraqis have started 30,000 businesses in the last year — while the New Orleans metro area has lost 220,000 jobs since Katrina and has created no new businesses. Two-thirds of New Orleans' grocery stores and restaurants remain closed, the city has less than 500 staffed hospital beds available — compared to more than 2,200 before the storm — and only 20 of the city's schools have reopened, serving just over 9,000 students.
Rebuilding New Orleans is going to be a long process and local government can't do it alone. Federal help — that includes capable leadership and adequate funding — is needed. It's high time our national leaders bring their attention back home.
Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of the Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.