August 29, 2005, in the center of the storm’s rampaging path: the city of New Orleans. Storm surges as high as nine meters overwhelmed unstable levees and drainage canals, leaving four-fifths of the city submerged. As the world watched, thousands of residents were left stranded without water, food or shelter as local, state and federal government agencies struggled to respond. More than one million people were forced from their homes and over 1,800 were killed.
Katrina also wreaked havoc with the city’s basic infrastructure, halting transportation, communications, healthcare, energy and water and wastewater. Even today, the city is continuing to address the destruction, which contributed to the total $150 billion in damage estimated to have been caused by the hurricane, the costliest in U.S. history
Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation
Increasing urban resilience
The shocks experienced by New Orleans underline some of the many challenges facing cities around the world. The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative (100RC) describes two categories: chronic stresses that weaken the fabric of a city such as high unemployment, food and water shortages, violence or overtaxed, inefficient public transportation systems; and sudden, sharp events that threaten a city such as earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks.
100RC was launched in 2013 precisely to help cities around the world become more resilient to social, economic and physical challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. 100RC works with private and public sector entities, academia, NGOs and a global network of cities (Chicago and Boston, Montreal, Paris, London, Singapore, Sydney, Kigali, Santiago, Deyang, to name just a few), to improve “urban resilience,” the capacity of a city’s stakeholders to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.
Veolia joined the 100RC network in 2014. In January 2016, the group teamed up with insurer Swiss Re, under the aegis of the Rockefeller Foundation, to help cities understand the risk exposure of critical assets under current and future climate scenarios. Assessments will be conducted to help cities develop resilience plans to prepare for major shocks and stresses, strengthen the resistance of vital infrastructure and speed economic recovery following catastrophic events.
Among the cities in which infrastructure resilience is being piloted: New Orleans. As part of the city’s Resilient New Orleans strategic road map, Veolia and Swiss Re have partnered with the city to help improve the management of critical assets, including water and wastewater systems, to enable their repair after a disruptive event.
Partners for over twenty years
For Veolia, the initiative continues a more than 20-year relationship with New Orleans, where since 1992 the group has been operating two wastewater treatment plants on behalf of the S&WB (Sewerage & Water Board). Working round the clock in the wake of Katrina, Veolia’s teams successfully got the wastewater management facilities up and running again within the 60-day timeframe set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). .
Commenting on the company’s relationship with the city, Sewerage and Water Board executive director Cedric S. Grant said,
“We look forward to building on our record of success with Veolia, which has done much to make us a strong environmental player for the residents of New Orleans and produce meaningful results for our community.”
The New Orleans-Veolia partnership also has won recognition from outside groups, including an Infrastructure Award in 2011 from the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, an independent not-for-profit body, for the work in protecting public health and the environment.