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Chronic disaster syndrome: Displacement, disaster capitalism, and the eviction of the poor from New Orleans

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ABSTRACT

Many New Orleans residents who were displaced in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the subsequent levee failures and floods are still displaced. Living with long-term stress related to loss of family, community, jobs, and social security as well as the continuous struggle for a decent life in unsettled life circumstances, they manifest what we are calling “chronic disaster syndrome.” The term refers not only to the physiological and psychological effects generated at the individual level by ongoing social disruption but also to the nexus of socioeconomic and political conditions that produce this situation as a long-term and intractable problem. Chronic disaster syndrome emerges from the convergence of three phenomena that create displacement: long-term effects of personal trauma (including near loss of life and loss of family members, homes, jobs, community, financial security, and well-being); the social arrangements that enable the smooth functioning of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,” in which “disaster” is prolonged as a way of life; and the permanent displacement of the most vulnerable populations from the social landscape as a perceived remedy that actually exacerbates the syndrome.

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