Race, Class, and Katrina: Human Rights and (Un)Natural Disaster (H. Lewis)


Hope Lewis


International human rights, Hurricane Katrina, aftermath, international humanitarian disaster, human rights crisis, densely populated, government inaction, racial injustice


This essay reflects on the international human rights implications of Hurricane Katrina; it is published as Chapter 11 of the collection Environmental Justice in the New Millennium: Global Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Human Rights (Filomina Chioma Steady, ed., Palgrave-MacMillan 2009).

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.


Northeastern UniversitySchool of Law Research Paper No. 38-2009 / Environmental Justice in the New Millennium: Global Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and Human Rights (Pargrave Macmillan, 2009)


Race, Class, and Katrina Human Rights and (Un) Natural Disaster