Katrina and Gustav

hurricane.jpg Writing on Monday evening, it looks like we can safely say that Hurricane Gustav has largely missed the city of New Orleans, saving this country from a horrible flashback experience three years after Katrina. But catastrophic or merely large as it might have been, Gustav, combined with the Republican convention momentarily converting all their efforts to potential disaster relief, has momentarily put the national spotlight back on New Orleans.

There is no need to go back and list the failures of the American Government to react to Katrina in 2005. Suffice to say that there has not been a time that I can remember a void so large in America that was subsequently filled mostly by private organizations and philanthropically minded citizens. While the FEMA trailers and the Superdome are the lasting memories from the event, there were also a nearly unprecedented number of organizations that either formed or re-dedicated themselves to lend some sort of hand where they could. It's amazing to see the numbers of not for profits formed in Katrina's wake: check out the article here.

Why bring all this up again, three years after the fact? Because it appears that three years might mark the end of the social motivation (read: guilt?) brought on after Katrina. At least, that's my read on the article that the Philanthropy News Digest published last week. It appears a few watchers have been noticing the fact that the number of non-profits has plateaued in Louisiana for the first time since 1996, with organizations dissolving or re-formatting "to fix the cities changing needs".

I would like to think of this as a measure of success, at least in some fashion. I like to read the contracting number of Not For Profits as people having accomplished what they set out to do. However, it seems far more likely that we can blame a decrease or leveling off of funds pouring into the area for a comparative decrease in foundations launching.

I'm not one for extending guilt in any form, and find it one of the more unfortunate tools that people need to utilize to raise that giving feeling, but I find it interesting to track the loss of interest in a cause or event as it moves from the public eye. Katrina truly was a disaster on a scale that was new to me (and closer to home for me), and as such it is hard to find other examples for how long it takes for people to move on with their giving after an event. Clearly, earthquakes in China or Tsunamis in Indonesia receded from the American conciseness much quicker then three years. The interesting question going forward will be: does Gustav jump start giving once again to a city still desperately in need, or does the storm's miss and subsequent lack of disaster pictures allow Americans to move on to the next cause de jour?

Also interesting to note: the political machines of both the Obama and McCain camps CAN be harnessed to do something besides fight over votes! Both have been casting aside partisanship for the moment, an uneasy truce that I don't expect will last much longer than threat of a storm. But isn't it amazing to see what they can do when they put their minds to it??

Alan Smith

Posted at 12:31 AM, Sep 02, 2008 in Permalink | Comment