The Great Wave off Kanagawa: Katsushika Hokusai
Shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast, I was dispatched to New Orleans by the corporate foundation that I worked for to figure out how to deploy our philanthropic disaster recovery commitment. It was a heartbreaking experience, compounded and complicated by the entrenched challenges New Orleans had struggled with for many years.
As with all natural disasters, the poorest suffered most in the immediate aftermath. What I, in my ignorance, learned for the first time was how the vulnerable continue to suffer long after the initial damage: tucked away for too long FEMA trailers, or separated from family, friends and vital supports, unable to access medical care, or shuttled from one temporary shelter situation to the next. Over the weeks, months and years following the storm there were dramatic and terrible increases in elder mortality, child poverty, murder, and mental illness.
Compared to the process of recovery in the Gulf Coast, and in spite of the many frustrations we feel with its pace in our region, New York City, New Jersey and Long Island have done remarkably well. For most of us, life is essentially back to normal: the kids are in school, we’re back at work, our homes have power, heat and hot water, and holiday shopping is underway.
But there remains a grave and nearly inevitable danger, as in all natural disasters, that we will “move on” without fully resolving the impacts on those most vulnerable, and inflict the mistakes of the past on our neighbors and fellow citizens tomorrow. Continue reading