August 23, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
When someone mentions “The Storm” in New Orleans, everyone knows they are speaking of Katrina. Now, in the same way they speak of the hurricane that devastated their city, residents in the Big Easy speak about “The Spill,” the latest disaster threatening the livelihood of a city still recovering from the destruction unleashed on it four years ago. Cab drivers, waiters, and shopkeepers shared with me what it’s been like as they continue to rebuild after Katrina while now facing the prospect of horrific loss due, this time, to a man-made catastrophe, the BP Spill.
While dining one evening at Jackson’s on Magazine Street, the waiter informed us of all the items, including oysters, not available “because of the spill.” We did enjoy some fresh oysters at Acme Oyster House who is procuring theirs from Apalachicola Bay in Florida. Each bite a reminder of the local oystermen’s lost livelihood. Some say the loss from the BP spill will be worse than that from Katrina.
I had a chance during dinner to speak to Sofia Cudumi who is working with the environmental health and justice organization, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, in the creation of an Oil Spill Crisis Map that documents and visualizes reports of the effects of the BP oil spill submitted via text message, email, twitter and the web.
Sofia explained how the jury is still out on the safety of dispersants and how so much of the damage is still under-reported. With the help of the Brigade’s interactive Oil Spill Crisis Map, reports of oil sightings, affected animals, odors, health effects and human factor impacts made by eyewitnesses and the media will provide needed information that can be used to compile data about the impact of the spill in real time as well as document the story of those who witness it.
The map, which was created in conjunction with Tulane University students and the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Academy, uses the same open source software used to track reports of incidents of violence around Kenya, as a citizen-driven election monitoring platform for the 2009 Indian general elections, and to track the post-earthquake crisis response and recovery efforts in Chile.