Differences Between The Impacts Of Hurricane Katrina And Cyclone Nargis

Tropical revolving storms have a marked influence on the areas they consume. Whether it’s at the point of striking (our primary effects) or the secondary factors days/months/years afterwards: they impact on the social, environmental and economic stature of an area. This is evident when comparing two of the most notable tropical revolving storms in the last decade. Hurricane Katrina hit the MEDC coast of Louisiana and the Mississippi in the form of a category 5 storm and the category 4 cyclone Nargis hit the LEDC nation, Burma, particularly the Irrawaddy delta.

Despite similar magnitudes the impacts of these two tropical revolving storms varied- so how and why was this? A telling factor of the impacts is the initial effect on the people in the event of the storms. Significantly hurricane Katrina had its most serious effect on the densely populated area of New Orleans. The storm burst the banks of the Mississippi with gusts of wind up to 345km/h and caused widespread flooding particularly to the vulnerable low lying regions of the lower 9nth ward, this quickly became the major cause of death with up to 90% of initial deaths as a result of drowning with powerful current s sweeping people away.

In total with the combined force of floods and wind up to 1 million people became homeless and 1,833 died. When looking at the same factors in the Irrawaddy delta, Nargis caused almost 10x the amount of death: 138,000 lost their lives with 2. 4million immediately homeless as a result of again strong 220km/h winds and flooding. Immediately then we can see a profound difference on a relatively similar impact region. This is where the infrastructure of an MEDC comes into place.

To reduce the initial impacts 50% of the New Orleans population evacuated using their private cars or school buses after being warned by advanced early warning systems in place across the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally many buildings around New Orleans many of the buildings were high-rise brick/concrete constructions therefore escaped the effects of flooding, so not as many homes were completely destroyed. Alternatively in a LEDC (Burma) the area has little infrastructure or no means of evacuation: helicopters, cars, buses were not available.

Buildings too did not meet the same building regulations in the USA so strong winds destroyed many homes. So how did these initial social impacts conspire to the coming days/months/years? What were the secondary effects on the people? There is evidence that shows political influences of both the USA and Burma actually worsened the social impact on the people. In Burma the state is controlled by the military or ‘Junta’ and to preserve national pride (amongst other reasons) they did not initially allow for emergency aid. This resulted in a weak slow response leaving over 2. 4 million people with no shelter, water or food, and basic sanitation.

Finally 7 days later the Junta allowed the most basic supplies from the UN and other East Asian countries. Added with the poor infrastructure of an LEDC by this time thousands more had died from starvation as well as outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera so in terms of long term social affects those who had survived grew weaker by the day. Moving further in the future it’s believed more than 7% of the current Burmese population are living permanently in plastic shelters as a result of low GDP per capita, characterising LEDCs as a whole, the secondary social impacts were large also.

How about the MEDC then? In the event of hurricane Katrina we can see how the USA’s- despite the world’s largest economy (at the time) – government influences slowed the relief effort which in result impacted the social impact. Firstly the federal government’s relief budget could not be accessed immediately due to no emergency congress occurring before the storm hit. The Louisiana state government too were criticised for reacting slowly as well as the overall amount of relief workers was reduced by up to 60% as a result of the war in Afghanistan.

So similarly with Burma the areas with up to 90% destruction faced shelter, water, food and sanitary issues. However with the economic power of USA and improved infrastructure and advanced emergency services including the US coast guard and fire services many people homeless initially took refuge in emergency shelters and even the New Orleans super dome meant over 100,000 found the basic needs quickly- reducing the death and disease characteristic in cyclone Nargis. Although with MEDC’s capacity of wealthy property: crime and looting was a real problem in New Orleans especially after one of the main prisons being evacuated.

Something that was less prominent Burma. Socially then, both long and short term, for the basic needs cyclone Nargis had a more profound impact on the people as New Orleans suffered differently as a result of different economic stature in the USA. From the social effects then, we can clearly see that many homes in both the Irrawaddy delta and New Orleans were destroyed to leave so many homeless, yet the impact of both Katrina and Nargis had a wider spread effect on the environment.

The US geological survey has estimated 217 square miles of land was transformed by flooding caused by Katrina- and within this many communities, businesses, and public services were destroyed, with 80% of all dwellings damaged in some way. Other significant effects include 20% of all local marshes being permanently damaged, 16 national wildlife refuges damaged and 7 million gallons of oil being leaked into water systems.

Drawing in the social effects again we can see how the effect on the initial environment impacts made up to 1 million people homeless however when we start to look at the secondary factors I believe the impacts where minor. Once the people were evacuated and received emergency aid the main environmental impact in the coming weeks/years (evidenced above) was on the wildlife or the economy- despite this being important (as I will elaborate later) it did not have any immediate danger to the people long term.

In stark contrast the vast flat environment of the Irrawaddy delta is the life support system that feeds, cleans and pays the people of south Burma. The 3 main environmental factors were impacted on hugely by cyclone Nargis: the shrimp industry was 100% damaged immediately with the destruction of boats and shallow delta waters, over 200,000 livestock were killed which were used for meat or milk or as crop harvesters, and 80-90% of all rice crops were destroyed by sea waters.

This then immediately meant people died so the primary environmental impacts were huge. Unlike Katrina in the USA the environmental impact then worsened in the secondary stages. With no boats the shrimp industry has still not returned to full strength to this day and the rice paddies damaged could not be used up to 12 months afterwards with no full harvest till the following year- today many of the paddies have been completely destroyed and there was a large shortage of livestock in the years following Nargis.

So then the impact on the environment for the people of Burma was far more detrimental than the environmental impacts of Katrina again enhanced by the LEDC status, but we can see how these effects transpired into the social effects we saw before and indeed economic impacts. Economic impacts always tend to be a secondary issue but both Katrina and Nargis were given an estimated figure for the scale of damage on the economy- and this is certainly telling when looking at the differences in impacts of the two tropical storms. Cyclone nargis was estimated to cost $10 billion –Katrina: $150 billion.

This is a clear difference and in many ways, unlike the social and environmental impacts, the LEDC is far better off. AS I mentioned before LEDCs have less infrastructure therefore when cyclone Nargis hit Burma there was far less in terms of economic value to destroy, eventually to replace. Whereas in the USA the sustained infrastructure (distinctive in a MEDC) means there is far more to destroy: so there’s more to replace. Even 8 years after Katrina both on and an individual basis and internationally the USA are still paying for Katrina.

The richer people were forced to use savings and insurance to rebuild homes, whereas federal run development programmes, such as the reconstruction of the lower 9nth ward are still taking place putting a huge burden on the federal and state governments. Smaller businesses have gone bust and even public services, like fire stations or forensic labs have shortfalls of millions of dollars to once again become operational. Nationally the economic impact is thought to have also influenced the prolonging of USA’s national recession to, which in turn has affected other trading national like the UK.

On the other side in the LEDC of Burma despite similar shortfalls of money to restore the nation to former ‘glory’ the process has more simple. International aid has eventually covered a much higher percentage of the damage costs because of this simplicity and overall cheaper cost- therefore with this aid money pledged by the UN and the Junta it has been a much easier process for the nation and individually. so we can see how long term these economic impacts are actually more ‘manageable’ for Burma after Nargis than those for the USA after Katrina.

Concluding then, we can clearly highlight the differences in impacts as a result of hurricane Katrina and Cyclone Nargis: socially, environmentally, and economically- both primarily and secondarily. I have noticed a difference in impacts based on the previous economic state of a country, when looking at these two tropical storms. Socially the impacts of Nargis far superseded that of Katrina both primarily and secondarily and I do not think this would have differed removing the poor political influence both nations had.

Whereas environmentally despite the initial impacts seeming worse in New Orleans as a result of Katrina, we can see that in Burma as with many LEDC’s the effect on the environment is far more detrimental in the years/months to come. I think this is because of the pure economic power of an MEDC like USA, it has the money to rebuild the environment in a matter of years- nevertheless this is the downfall of MEDC’s as we saw when looking at the superior economic impacts of Katrina compared to Nargis’s. Thus the severity of impact of these two tropical storms differs, not because of the magnitude, but because of the economic state.

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