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 streets still do not have electricity. Health services are non-existent. There are no public or private schools operating. What water there is is not potable, and most homes still do not even have access to running water.

Common Ground Relief is committed to providing the necessary resources to Lower 9th Ward residents as they struggle for their right to return home. If our Government's relief effort wishes to continue to treat Lower Ninth Ward residents as second-class citizens, then we will look for solutions to our problems from those in other parts of the world who have a similar history of neglect and underservice by their governments. Citizens of the Global South have struggled for generations against municipal and private water companies to provide adequate potable and wastewater services. As a result of these providers' unwillingness to provide this essential service to urban residents, many communities and neighborhoods have developed their own small and autonomous water services.

The government in this country has proven time and again that New Orleans residents cannot depend on it. New Orleans could not depend on them for a dignified and humane evacuation last fall. And still residents cannot depend on them for the needed resources and livelihoods during the rebuilding process. Like our neighbors in Bolivia, Mexico and India, residents in the Lower 9th Ward have reached the point where they must look to inward to meet their own, most basic needs.

Common Ground Relief is putting out a call of support to people of conscience to help us bring both potable and running water to the residents of the Lower 9th Ward. At the moment, the only source of drinking water in this neighborhood is Common Ground's Lower 9th Ward Distribution Center. Here we distribute bottled water to residents who pass through our Center. However, as the summer approaches and temperatures continue to rise, bottled water is not a sustainable solution. We plan, instead, to purchase a diesel water truck (which will be run on biodiesel) that can carry up to 2,000 gallons of potable water. This water would then be stored in water tanks strategically placed throughout the Ninth Ward, where residents would have multiple places of access to this fundamental resource.

Furthermore, this water truck will be used for other vital projects in the Lower 9th Ward such as the gutting of home and pressure washing of property. Aditionally, our bioremediation gardens which use different plants to remove arsenic and lead from Lower 9th Ward soil, must be watered. Finally, Common Ground is launching a grass-roots, city-wide emergency preparedness campaign to prevent the recurrence of tragedies seen at the Superdome and Convention Center. An essential part of this preparedness campaign is to have in place enough basic supplies to serve those without the resources for evacuation. Hence, access to a water truck is essential for this evacuation plan.

In order to actualize this plan we need your support. Common Ground needs both technical and financial backing from people like yourself. Common Ground needs to raise approximately $20,000 to cover the costs of a diesel water truck, water filtration systems, and water storage tanks. Working in solidarity we can meet the needs of all in New Orleans, regardless of race, class or ethnicity.

As the summer approaches it is imperative that we purchase this vehicle ASAP therefore we are asking for financial donations to help meet this basic human right in New Orleans. Any donation small or large can help in this effort. Everything that Common Ground accomplishes is made possible through generous support from people like you.

Please write tax deductible checks to Common Ground Relief. Write in the Memo "Water Truck Project"

Please mail all tax deductible checks to:

Water Truck Project
Common Ground Relief
221 Idora Ave
Vallejo,CA 94591

Meg Perry Bioremediation Project
a program of the Common Ground Collective

Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera--Pablo Neruda

They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop the coming of spring.