At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, ThinkProgress Green interviewed Zack Rosenburg, the CEO and co-founder of St. Bernard Project. His non-profit organization has been rebuilding homes and lives in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. So far, the St. Bernard Project has rebuilt 405 houses with 36,000 volunteers, provided mental health services, and has created local jobs for unemployed residents and returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
With climate disasters on the rise, improving disaster preparedness and resilience is a critical need. Rosenburg believes that the existing, bureaucratic structure for disaster relief needs to be revamped drastically to be much more efficient, rapid, and responsive, because “time matters in disaster recovery.” The project still has 130 families on their waiting list for home rebuilding in New Orleans. There are 10,000 American families that are still displaced from that disaster, and 200 families are still living in FEMA trailers. The project has also been asked by the city of Joplin, MO to take over the construction part of their recovery from the devastating tornado.
“Disaster recovery in America is broken,” said Rosenburg.
Watch the interview:
Rosenburg was at CGI as a guest of Toyota. In an interesting partnership, Toyota engineers are teaching the St. Bernard Project to build houses quicker, more efficiently, and cheaper, applying the business practices Toyota uses with its automobile construction. This contribution from the Toyota Foundation compares to the kind of business consulting that companies like McKinsey provide at high cost, usually out of reach to small non-profits.
The St. Bernard Project is not alone in its mission. At the Solar Decathlon now taking place on the National Mall, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign team has built Re_home, designed explicitly to be a permanent residence prefabricated for rapid response to disaster situations. Green construction also fits the philosophy of trying to reduce the risk of disasters before they start, in part by reducing the greenhouse pollution that is making our weather more extreme.
“I’m really proud of the Obama administration in taking a much more aggressive and proactive role in dealing with these inevitable disasters,” Rosenburg said. He is also hopeful for the future, inspired by the outpouring of help from around the country. “America wants America to be whole,” he believes.
Read more coverage of the Clinton Global Initiative from ThinkProgress.