Water is a human right: Help restore hope, dignity and Water to the Lower Ninth Ward

Over seven months have passed since Katrina destroyed New Orleans and levee failures inundated the Big Easy. Much of New Orleans is well along the road to recovery. The French Quarter is once again crawling with tourists and the banking district is up and running. However, if you travel just a few miles east of downtown--to the other side of the Industrial Canal—you find yourself in a neighborhood that does not look much different than it did in September. There are no businesses operating, no schools in session, no electricity, no FEMA trailers, and no RUNNING WATER.

This is the infamous Lower Ninth Ward - a neighborhood that has gained international media attention due to both the severity of flooding after Katrina and the exposure of long-standing human rights violations and neglect residents here have endured. Damage to the 9th Ward is extreme because of the proximity to the broken levee on the Industrial Canal, and the fact that it was flooded twice following both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Race, class and historical governmental neglect in the Lower Ninth Ward inform the slow and unacceptable efforts of city, state and federal relief agencies. Prior to Katrina, approximately 14,000 people and 4,820 homes were found in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area of the city first settled by African American families after their emancipation from slavery. Over 54 percent of residents in this neighborhood have lived there for at least 25 years, reflecting community members' longstanding and profound roots in the neighborhood. The Lower 9thWard has the highest rate (60%) of African American homeownership in the U.S. – and a higher rate than New Orleans – even despite the economic hardship that came with the disappearance of local industrial jobs. Before Katrina, 72 percent of homeowners with mortgages in the Lower 9th paid $400-$900/month. Most homeowners in the Lower 9th Ward, including those without mortgages, would be ineligible for new mortgages if they tried to purchase in another place. So homes represent many families' assets, livelihoods and opportunities.

Furthermore, this neighborhood faces threats of gentrification from corporate and government powers. Government officials have indicated that they may use interpretations of Eminent Domain to take the homes of many Lower 9th Ward residents, violating their right to return home. The longer homes in this neighborhood remain empty and idle, the easier it will be for institutional powers to take these homes and displace this longstanding African-American community.

A primary obstacle preventing many Lower 9th residents from returning to their homes is the lack of city services in this neighborhood. Over ninety-five percent of the stree