Politicizing Disaster: The Politics of the Federal Response to'Natural Disasters' from Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Maria (Proposed Roundtable Discussion)

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Journal Article

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The 2017 hurricane season in the Atlantic basin has unequivocally been the most active season in terms of tropical cyclonic activity since 2005 – the year that set the benchmark as far as the number of named storms are concerned. Punctuating the 2017 hurricane season, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other parts of the Caribbean. But there appears to be a marked difference in the robustness of the federal government’s response to the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida (where the predominate media images of the victims of Harvey and Irma are white) versus Hurricane Maria, which devastated Spanish speaking Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens: however, the woefully inadequate, anemic response to the disaster by the Trump administration brings to mind the bumbling, disastrously incompetent relief efforts of the Bush administration following Hurricane Katrina. Katrina and Maria bear an unfortunate similarity: its victims are primarily people of color. Herein lies the connection: not only did the Bush White House badly mishandle the initial federal response on a multitude of levels, but they (along with their Republican surrogates) needlessly politicized the issue in a manner that has had lasting impacts on the nature of federal response to disaster ever since. A combination of racial politics, deep ideological divisions about the role of the federal government, and political dysfunction in Washington have characterized congressional and executive responses to every natural disaster since Katrina. This reality has prevented policymakers from learning the lessons it should have learned from Katrina – and paving the way for the federal government’s criminally incompetent and immoral response to the victims of Hurricane Maria. This roundtable discusses the plethora of issues involved regarding federal response to natural disasters from 2005 to 2017.


Climate, Civil Rights


Political Science