One month before Katrina resulted in floods in New Orleans, a similar “natural” disaster occurred in Mumbai, India. Judy Whitehead, associate professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada the United Kingdom, has conducted disaster research in partnership with an NGO that brought together organizations working with slum dwellers. In Anthropology News December, she sums up some similarities between the disaster in Mumbai with the Katrina disaster in Florida.
Both disasters reveal "common problems in both neoliberal states’ disaster management":
States that minimize public safety, leaving “civil society” and the market to meet social needs, may well be ones that are deficient in safety planning and provisioning.
- Like New Orleans, Mumbai has de-industrialized in the past two decades. The city’s textile industry has closed down under competition from the power loom sector.
- Like New Orleans, Mumbai, too, has a vulnerable topography.
- Like New Orleans, the vacuum created by state inaction was filled by the press who excelled in Mumbai in “speaking truth to power.”
Since economic reforms were installed in India in 1991, “good governance” has come to mean that state and municipal governments should be pared down, while social services are contracted out to non-governmental organizations. The notion of a state that relies on “civil society” to meet its social programs ignores long-term investment in infrastructure to prevent disasters and long-range planning that focuses on preparedness for the worst-case scenarios.
Comparative studies of flood management in neoliberal, social-democratic states provide important insights in resulting problems in disaster management.