Nightmare in New Orleans

Do disasters destroy social cooperation?

(Page 2 of 2)

Now—secure with these two necessities, food and water—cooperation, community and creativity flowered. We organized a clean-up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom, and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas and other scraps. We even organized a food-recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was something we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. But when these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

I can't vouch for their account, but I can attest to that final point. People do look out for each other in emergencies, even when other social bonds begin to break. The best response to a disaster will embrace that. The worst will work against it.

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