Speaking Out for the People of New Orleans & the Gulf

As we just passed the 5 year anniversary of Katrina and the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are now recovering from the massive oil spill as well, Amnesty International released a revised edition of their report, Unnatural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast.

Amnesty’s report is available online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/dignity/pdf/unnaturaldisaster.pdf

Looking at Amnesty’s new video of Nicolas Cage visiting the Lower Ninth Ward, I have mixed feelings about not visiting while I was there for AI’s Annual General Meeting in April. I had no idea that it could still be so barren, with vacant lots and so few houses rebuilt 5 years after Hurricane Katrina. It looks so rural, not like a neighborhood in a major American City. Yet, without an opportunity to volunteer there, I’d feel like I was gawking, maybe especially with my tendency to take too many pictures.

Thousands of public housing units were demolished in New Orleans, including units that sustained little storm damage. Redevelopment is slow, with a shift towards mixed income developments with only a small percentage of affordable housing units being built. Damaged public housing units in Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi have been sold off to private entities or redeveloped into mixed income housing.

Over 82,000 rental housing units were lost in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans. Only 38% of the lost units in New Orleans have been replaced. Rents are 40% higher than pre-hurricane levels. Even though damage to rental units was greater, a majority of federal and state funds are going to homeowner units. There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 homeless in New Orleans, 60% who are homeless because of hurricane Katrina. Even homeowners didn’t fare so well, 81% have insufficient funds to re-build. Mississippi and Alabama residents face similar problems with lack of funds to rebuild.

Few hospitals have reopened. Neither of the two in St. Bernard’s Parish have reopened and only 12 of 23 in Orleans Parish. Charity Hospital, the safety net hospital for New Orleans, has not reopened. Lack of mental health care and police accountability issues are also covered in the report.

All this and now the massive oil spill on the Gulf. Amnesty International has a new online action calling on our Congress members to introduce and support legislation to establish a Gulf of Mexico Independent Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council where the voices of the people most  affected by the spill would be heard, unlike after Katrina.

Both the report and action can be found online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/katrina

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