ECC Platform Library


Distress and discontent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Type of conflict
Intensity 1.8
United States of America
Time 2005 ‐ ongoing
Countries United States of America
Conflict Summary Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, causing severe destruction along the Gulf coast between Florida and Texas. The city of New Orleans in the...
Distress and discontent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, causing severe destruction along the Gulf coast between Florida and Texas. The city of New Orleans in the state of Louisiana was particularly affected due to the breaching of levees. The storm caused an unprecedented loss of life, and massive infrastructural and economic damages. As a result, the government was met with strong criticism regarding the vulnerability of the city to such disasters, and the inadequate and untimely response of authorities during and in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States of America. The storm made landfall on August 29, 2005, largely affecting the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans, killing at least 986 people in the state of Louisiana and displacing more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region. The government was met with strong criticism from the media and the public regarding the vulnerability of the city to such disasters, and the inadequate and untimely response of authorities during and in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Much of the criticism revolved around the failure of the flood system of the city, which the public blamed on inadequate construction, and due to the mismanagement of hurricane preparedness and relief efforts. Grievances focused on the fact that impoverished, predominantly black, communities were disproportionately affected by the hurricane. As a result, the capabilities and competence of the federal government and the Bush Administration were questioned.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversExtreme weather event is consistent with predictions regarding more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events.Extreme weather event reveals a lacking capacity of the state to manage crises and/or reduces state capacity.The perceived inadequacy of state capacity leads to growing discontent with the state.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsA specific extreme weather event such as a flood or a storm.Extreme Weather EventReduced capacity of the state to fulfil basic functions deemed necessary by the population and/or reduced public support for state authorities.Reduced State Capacity and/or LegitimacyChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Inadequate Infrastructure
  • Political Marginalization
Conflict History

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States of America, largely affecting the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite the weakening in strength into a Category 3 hurricane before its landfall in Louisiana, Katrina caused severe damage to the city mostly due to the failure of the levees, which were meant to protect the city from flooding during a storm surge, and due to the mismanagement of hurricane preparedness and relief efforts (Moore, 2017). As a result, 80 percent of the city of New Orleans was flooded, killing at least 986 people in the state of Louisiana and displacing more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region. Katrina was also one of the costliest disasters causing a total damage of around USD 135 billion (Plyer, 2016). Environmental damages included substantial beach erosion, the loss of habitats and wetlands, and the infiltration of toxic substances into groundwater (Sheikh, 2006). The government, at the local, state and federal levels, was met with strong criticism and grievances from the media and the public in the aftermath of the storm as it was widely believed that much of the damage and suffering could have been avoided, and parts of the population felt neglected (Smith, 2011).

An unprepared city
Although the grievances against the government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are multi-faceted, much of the focus resided on the failure of the flood protection system of the city. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for the construction and upkeep of the levees, were ardently blamed by the public and the media as it is believed much of the damage could have been avoided. In fact, a report by an external review panel estimated that two-thirds of the flooding experienced in New Orleans can be attributed to the breaching of the city’s levees and flood walls (ASCE, 2007). The same report suggests that two-thirds of the deaths would not have occurred had the system not failed (ibid., 2007). These accusations led to several investigations in the aftermath of the disaster, most of which concluded that the problem lied within the inadequate design and construction of the levees. The Corps has since admitted full responsibility for the failure of the flood system (Robertson & Schwartz, 2015).

The levee breaching was not the only source of debate and conflict after the hurricane. The local and the federal government were also criticized for turning wetland—that serves as a natural barrier against storms and storm surges—into shipping lanes under the promise of economic development. By replacing a natural buffer against storm surges with a 75-mile long, obsolete canal, the hurricane was guided into the heart of New Orleans and adjacent communities (Freudenburg et al., 2009).

Inadequate response
A lot of criticism was also directed towards all levels of government, from the role of the President to the local government, regarding the slow and inadequate response to the storm and its aftermath.  Public debate primarily revolved around the late call for mandatory evacuations in New Orleans from Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin despite adequate warning. With only 19 hours before landfall, the tardy mandatory evacuation order led to an incomplete evacuation of the city, and eventually deaths and dangerous conditions for those who remained. Furthermore, the aptitude and action of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was subject of heavy criticism as it failed to get relief supplies, equipment, and personnel on the ground in a timely manner. A predominant criticism revolved around the dire situation faced by residents seeking refuge at shelters. In one case, 19,000 people in the Convention Center, which was not originally planned as a shelter but became one out of necessity, had no food or water, and no security was present. In addition, there was great media hype about the inability of the government to re-establish law and order (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006), even though media coverage of looting and lawlessness was later found to be greatly exaggerated (Tierney, Bevc, Kuligowski, 2006). As a result, the capabilities and competence of the Bush Administration was questioned, especially after it was discovered that the director of FEMA at the time had no disaster management experience and was a political appointee of the president (Olson & Gawronski, 2010).

Racial dynamics
Debates surrounding the preparedness and response of the government point out that impoverished communities were disproportionately affected by the hurricane, bringing into question the racial dynamics at play. Before the storm, 28 percent of residents lived below the poverty line (of whom 84 percent were black) and 100,000 had no car, and therefore had no ability to flee the city when the storm hit (Casselman, 2015). Moreover, most African-Americans lived in areas that got heavily flooded. Authorities were blamed by a series of public figures for not adopting adequate measures and foreseeing the severe impact the hurricane would have on the historically marginalized African American community (Adelson, 2015; Hartnell, 2008). Hurricane Katrina brought the issue of race inequality in New Orleans to the forefront of political debates and campaigns for years to come (Harris, 2015). 

The recovery of New Orleans has been a long and contested process that has also been debated along racial lines. By 2015, a majority of white residents believed the city had mostly recovered, while most black residents believed it had not (Robertson, 2015). This division may be explained to a certain extent by the fact that black residents have had more difficulty returning to New Orleans after Katrina in part because African-Americans were more likely to have lived in the most damaged parts of the city (ibid., 2015). Another factor has been that planners have been unwilling to rebuild low-income housing that mostly benefits African-American communities (Hartnell, 2008). As a result, the African-American share of the city’s population was down to 59 percent in 2013 compared to 66 percent in 2005. Moreover, the African-Americans that left were predominantly middle class, leaving behind a city with a big share of poor African Americans and affluent whites (Adelson, 2015). Thus, Katrina also altered the demographic and cultural identity of the city.

Resolution Efforts

One way to protect the city from another major storm is to make sure the levees are strong and well-engineered. The United States Army Corps of Engineers has invested USD 14.5 billion on improving the levee system, making it far better equipped to handle a high category hurricane than it was in 2005 (Harris, 2015). However, the local government’s inability to agree upon a tax increase to support the improvement and maintenance of the levees poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of the system in the future (Burnett, 2015).

A number of lawsuits were filed in the aftermath of the hurricane by residents seeking compensation for damages cause by breached levees. Yet, most were dismissed given that federal statutes grant the United States Army Corps of Engineers virtual immunity (Robertson & Schwartz, 2015, Schleifstein, 2017a). One law suit, however, ruled in favour of almost 125,000 homeowners and businesses with a USD 20 million settlement to be shared between claimants (Schleifstein, 2017b).

During Katrina, there was a significant lack of coordination among agencies and ambiguity surrounding the limits of authority and responsibility. To correct those things, Congress created a series of reforms prompted by the failures experienced during Katrina regarding disaster preparedness (Philipps, 2017). As observed in the wake of Hurricane Gustav in 2008, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina encouraged better communication among agencies, and better preparedness and planning (Schafer, Eosco, Keim, 2009).

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict No
Salience within nation Regional
Resolution Success
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of the United States of America
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Local Communities
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
2 Compensation Residents affected by Hurricane Katrina filed various lawsuits seeking compensation for damage caused by breached levees. Most lawsuits were dismissed and only one lawsuit awarded USD 20 million to be divided between 125,000 claimants.
2 Improving state capacity & legitimacy A series of disaster preparedness reforms were passed by Congress in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
3 Improving infrastructure & services The government improved the levee and flood system around the city to be better equipped for large storms.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
References with URL

References without URL
Freudenburg, W.R., Gramling, R.B., Laska, S., Erikson, K. (2009). Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow. Washington, DC: Island Press.


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

Read more

Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more


Sorry, no description found.

Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

Read more

Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

Read more


Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

Read more


Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

Read more


The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

Read more

Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

Read more


Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

Read more


Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

Read more

Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

Read more

Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

Read more

Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

Read more


Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

Read more



The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Read more

Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

Read more


As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

Read more

Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

Read more

Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

Read more

North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

Read more

Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

Read more

South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

Read more

Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

Read more