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The Disaster Law Project

Disasters ● Displacement ● Human Rights

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human rights

What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?

I get this question a lot.  For me, it’s someone who uses the law to empower people whose rights are overlooked or outright violated in a disaster.  We advocate for people who were socially vulnerable and politically marginalized even before the disaster, and therefore especially susceptible to human rights abuse after a disaster.

Hurricane Katrina was my first direct experience with a mega-disaster, and it’s important to be clear about what happened. The strength of the storm and where it landed are accepted as reasons so many people died, or struggled to stay afloat in the drawn-out aftermath. But life was fated for people across the Gulf Coast long before Katrina, by government policies that determined who lived where; whether and when they could escape; and if those who made it out were encouraged to return home.  I saw the same thing play out in Haiti, and witnessed it from a distance in the Philippines, Nepal, and virtually everywhere else an earthquake hit, a hurricane struck, or a drought crept in.  The most important thing I learned from Katrina and these other events is that disasters do the most damage along political fault-lines that already exist.

I also learned something else from Katrina.  Continue reading “What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?”

Flint Water Crisis: A Human Rights Failure

The US Human Rights Network’s National Human Rights To Water and Sanitation Coalition calls attention to the Flint water crisis as a human rights violation that disproportionately impacts people in marginalized communities. From the press release:

[A]ccess to safe, affordable, and clean water is an internationally recognized universal human right. Just this past October, members of our coalition testified at an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on the Human Right to Water in the Americas. In Flint and across the country, the water crisis in the U.S. is also a crisis of economic class and racially-based discrimination that disproportionately impacts poor people, communities of color, Indigenous Peoples, migrants, women, people with disabilities, elders, children, the chronically ill, and other groups that have historically faced discrimination. Continue reading “Flint Water Crisis: A Human Rights Failure”

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