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Hurricane Katrina 10 years on

A child walks on a street in the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood, an area damaged by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States August 18, 2015. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls. Congress authorized spending more than $14 billion to beef up the city's flood protection after Katrina and built a series of new barriers that include manmade islands and new wetlands. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria returned to New Orleans after documenting events in 2005 and found a city much rebuilt and renovated, although abandoned homes show Katrina’s lingering impact. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A child walks on a street in the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood, an area damaged by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States August 18, 2015. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls. Congress authorized spending more than $14 billion to beef up the city’s flood protection after Katrina and built a series of new barriers that include manmade islands and new wetlands. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria returned to New Orleans after documenting events in 2005 and found a city much rebuilt and renovated, although abandoned homes show Katrina’s lingering impact. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

By Carlos Barria, Reuters
August, 2015

When I arrived in New Orleans after the 2005 hurricane, which caused flooding in 80 percent of the city and killed 1,572 people, the scene was quietly apocalyptic. There was dark water all around, empty highways, bodies wrapped in plastic.

The calm before the storm, the saying goes. But for many survivors of Katrina, it’s the calm after the storm that truly haunts.

As the dark clouds from a big storm gathered in the sky, local resident Errol Morning remembered that he was not too drunk that day, he only had a few drinks of whisky in the morning. I managed to find Morning, whose photo I took after the hurricane, again this year.

But his buzz gave way to a sense of dread as water began seeping into his trailer home in a suburban area of New Orleans, slowly rose up the walls, then kept rising, all the way to the roof. He climbed on top of his home.

When I saw Morning back in 2005, a local resident aged 60 at the time, he was paddling in an aluminium boat along a flooded street, using a plank for an ore. Ten years later I went to the same corner in a run-down neighbourhood. Abandoned houses are now part of the landscape.

For Jane Garrison, an animal-protection volunteer at the time, her strongest impression of the city after the storm was the silence, broken by only two things: helicopters flying overhead and the occasional bark of a dog.

Some of the animals were also on roofs, alone, waiting for owners who would never come home in some cases. Garrison, who now lives in Palm Springs, California, travelled to New Orleans to assist after the hurricane struck.

After some preliminary research, I drove for hours looking for the same people that I documented 10 years ago. Most of them I never found: one had died, others had moved on with little trace.

In a way, it wasn’t surprising. Almost the entire city was evacuated after the storm. For weeks, residents were not allowed to return to their homes as authorities tried to pump the water out and re-establish basic services.

Many people never moved back. They crossed state lines instead to start a new life. For those who returned home, the reality was hard – an entire city on its knees waiting to be rebuilt.

Some areas like the Lower Ninth Ward have seen many changes. The nearby levee broke, unleashing a wall of water that almost completely destroyed all the houses. The area is now rebuilt with homes on stilts.

Today, the mostly African-American neighbourhood has some new residents too: whites and Latinos. When I stopped by, there was a taco truck on the corner.

Some things haven’t changed. One morning, I found myself on Bourbon Street as the sun was rising and the thermometer climbed to 90 degrees. The smells of a long night of alcohol and partying rose from the street that’s long famous for attracting revellers from near and far.

Copyright Reuters 2015

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Kenyan fishers swap boats for mangroves and mariculture

Kibibi Mramba replants mangroves along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi. TRF/Sophie Mbugua

Kibibi Mramba replants mangroves along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi. TRF/Sophie Mbugua

By Sophie Mbugua 
August, 2015

KILIFI, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A slight breeze makes the afternoon humidity bearable as Kibibi Mramba and 19 others plant tiny mangrove shoots along a creek in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi.

For the past five years, members of the Mtongani Self Help Group have been acting as volunteer forest guards, restoring mangroves along the Kilifi Creek, some 75 km (46.6 miles) from Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city.

They also maintain four tidal fish ponds nearby, which help them conserve local marine life and make a living as climate change impacts bite and fish catches on the open sea shrink.

“I am educating my children from the proceeds I get from planting these mangroves, and selling the prawns and fish we farm,” said Mramba.

According to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), coastal mangrove forests are among the world’s most important wetland ecosystems, providing crucial habitat for wildlife and fish, slowing coral reef sedimentation, and protecting coastlines from severe weather events.

But they are also being destroyed at an alarming rate. Over the past 50 years, around one-third of the world’s original mangrove forests have been lost to unsustainable wood harvesting, pollution, unfettered development, flooding, erosion and sedimentation, says KMFRI.

With aid from Slovakia, channeled through the Kilifi-based Kwetu Training Centre for Sustainable Development, the Mtongani group has replanted more than 15,000 mangrove trees since it formed in 2010.

Members also work with the Kenya Forest Service to stop illegal loggers. “The cutting has reduced since [loggers] know now even a woman can arrest them,” said Mramba.

 

FISHING FAILURE

According to James Kairu, a principal scientist at KMFRI, the destruction of Kenya’s mangroves is a major factor in the struggles of the country’s fishing communities.

Fish breed in mangroves before moving to live in coral reefs. Kairu said over-exploitation of fisheries, the felling of mangroves and rising global temperatures have put pressure on the mangrove and coral ecosystem, harming fish populations.

The villagers of Kilifi, who mostly depend on fishing for their income, have seen a drastic drop in fish numbers over the last few years.

To combat the problem, the Mtongani group decided two years ago to complement their mangrove restoration project with mariculture, the farming of sea life in salt water.

The group built four tidal ponds, each 20 metres (65.62 ft) by 15, which hug the Indian Ocean. Twice a day when the tide comes in, the water brings crabs, fish and prawns that are left behind when the tide goes out again.

The group catches the creatures to eat, sell and stock their ponds, which are replenished with new nutrient-rich water at each high tide.

“We started this project as an alternative source of food and livelihood after fishing started to become unsustainable,” said Nicholas Ngao, chairman of the Mtongani group, whose name means “a relaxing place by the sea” in Swahili.

“I have been a fisherman all my life. In a day, I used to be able to fish about 50 kg (110.23 lb) near the shores, but currently getting even 2 kg is difficult.”

Every three months, the group harvests about 300 kg of fish, 108 kg of prawns and 70 kg of crab. The members sell their catch for between Ksh 200 ($2) and Ksh 1,000 ($10) per kilo.

They also sell at least 12,000 mangrove seedlings every year for up to Ksh 20 each. A tenth of the proceeds goes towards group maintenance, while the rest is divided among members according to their workload.

 

SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

Combining mangrove conservation with tidal ponds could give coastal communities a chance at a sustainable future as they feel the effects of global warming, said KMFRI’s Kairu.

A report by leading marine scientists, published in July, warned that if temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, ocean warming will further harm marine life, directly affecting food access in coastal communities such as Kilifi.

Higher temperatures can also trigger devastating storms. Kenya’s coast is still recovering from the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon in 1997-98, which raised ocean temperatures and brought high rainfall.

The result was massive sedimentation, killing huge numbers of mangroves and exposing coastal villages to strong waves. The warmer seas also bleached enormous areas of coral reef, putting stress on the region’s fish populations.

With another major El Niño event now underway, Mramba, Ngao and the other members of the Mtongani group hope that by finding an alternative to traditional fishing and restoring mangrove forests, they can help their village survive – and maybe even thrive – in the face of climate pressures.

“The fish and prawns are breeding at a higher rate than before and the mangrove forest has reduced the wind intensity,” said Ngao. “The trees mean our farms no longer flood as they used to whenever the sea rises, which makes farming easier than it has been for a long time.”

Copyright Thomson Reuters Foundation 2015

Reporting by Sophie Mbugua; editing by Jumana Farouky and Megan Rowling.

Note: This story was made possible by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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