The New Orleans “unnatural disaster”

Image source: National Geographic, October 2004

Like everyone else I have been horrified at the events that have taken place in Louisiana these last few days. The extent of human suffering, the lawlessness, and the apparent inability of the richest country in the world to respond quickly enough to this disaster has been quite shocking. The amazing radio interview given by the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, broadcast on CNN today was particularly scathing in its criticism of the federal government, and the transcript is well worth read. Once again, however, the term ‘natural disaster’ is being used by the media, when the truth of the matter is that it ain’t so natural. The area is prone to hurricanes and always has been, but as National Geographic Magazine pointed out last October, this terrible tragedy has been on the cards for a while, as the excerpt below reveals:

“The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. “It’s not if it will happen,” says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. “It’s when.”

Yet just as the risks of a killer storm are rising, the city’s natural defenses are quietly melting away. From the Mississippi border to the Texas state line, Louisiana is losing its protective fringe of marshes and barrier islands faster than any place in the U.S. Since the 1930s some 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of coastal wetlands — a swath nearly the size of Delaware or almost twice that of Luxembourg — have vanished beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Despite nearly half a billion dollars spent over the past decade to stem the tide, the state continues to lose about 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of land each year, roughly one acre every 33 minutes.”