Huffington Post Op-Ed: Lessons learned from rebuilding New Orleanns

August 27, 2015

Georgetown Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo wrote an op-ed published in The Huffington Post about New Orleans' revival after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city 10 years ago. New Orleans' recovery efforts, Arroyo explains, offer lessons for all communities that use federal disaster recovery dollars to rebuild, adapt, and thrive in the aftermath of climate-related disasters--and ideally, to prepare in advance of such events and avoid the most dire consequences.

To mark the anniversary of Katrina, the Climate Center issued a report describing these lessons. The key message: We need to modify laws and policies governing the spending of federal disaster relief money.

In her op-ed, Arroyo identifies the progress made and the challenges ahead.

The good news is that we are making some progress. The Obama Administration is helping states and communities prepare for future impacts and rebuild after disasters in ways that take rising seas and other climate impacts into account. In New Orleans, for example, officials across all levels of government worked to eliminate bureaucratic barriers that would have prevented the city from rebuilding public school buildings in a smarter way, adapting to the changed understanding of the city's flood risks and new demographics.

Community leaders and some at FEMA are working to spend disaster relief money to build parks and greenways that capture stormwater. These projects are not only helping the city reduce more routine flooding, they are also reducing urban heat island effect and providing open space and bike paths, cleaner air and water, and wildlife habitat.

The challenge, though, is that current federal formulas for spending disaster relief money often do not take these multiple benefits into account. As a result, officials had to fight hard to use the federal dollars in innovative ways, rather than just rebuilding what had been lost. What we need now is to make these innovative approaches standard operating procedure for every community rebuilding after a disaster. The goal should be to rebuild smarter, and ensure that the investments made with federal taxpayer dollars will survive the next storm.

Read the full op-ed here.