Flood Exposes the Most Vulnerable

Joe Bowersox"Katrina is a striking example of how our inability to live better with nature has had the most severe consequences for those at the social and economic margins of our society, those with the least political clout and the least ability to get out of harm's way," said Joe Bowersox, associate professor of politics at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

"It's clear that certain federal emergency management authorities dropped the ball at some point," Bowersox said. "Preliminary requests for aid and discussion of worst-case scenarios, including the breaching of levees and flood walls, were submitted to decision makers in Washington by state and local authorities in advance of Katrina's landfall. Local officers from the Army Corps of Engineers--the federal agency responsible for building and maintaining the levees and floodwalls that had protected New Orleans--communicated their fears. They appear to have been ignored."

Bowersox advocates approaching the task of reconstruction with a stronger sense of the realities of the geography, and with sensitivity for those who would be most impacted by further storms.

Pointing to lessons learned after the Mississippi floods of the 1990s, Bowersox said, "Katrina should make us reconsider once again whether we want to work against natural forces or learn to live with them. In the wake of those floods, we began to change public policies, to encourage people to stop building in floodplains.

"All human-made structures have their limitations, and under certain conditions they will fail."

Bowersox said it will be more difficult to change direction in a city with the size and historical significance of New Orleans.

"Nevertheless, it's certain that storms of this or greater intensity will occur again. We must make this region environmentally sustainable, if we wish it to be sustained economically and culturally."

Bowersox is a political scientist with research and teaching interests in environmental and natural resources policy and law. He has written extensively on water policy, as well as the relationship between environmental dilemmas, public values and human welfare.

Joe Bowersox is available for interviews. He may be reached at 503-370-6220 or