02 September 2008

Gulf Coast Emergency: Low-income Women of Color Most Impacted; FEMA Disappoints Again

Since it first seemed that another hurricane was headed towards New Orleans on the third anniversary of Katrina, the Ms. Foundation has been actively in touch with our Katrina Women's Response Fund grantees, many of them community-based organizations located in and around the city. Most of them are now in Birmingham, AL or Austin, TX. Others such as Brenda Dardar Robichaux of the United Houma Nation Relief Fund just outside of New Orleans judged it okay to stay put. Robichaux was particularly worried about Houma tribal members in Lafourche and Terrebonne, in the direct path of the storm. Initial reports show that while great flooding was expected, these communities mostly experienced strong winds. But we may not know for days.

While it is an enormous relief that Gustav ended up causing less damage than anticipated, we remain worried about the impact of yet another displacement on low-income women and women of color and their families. Particularly those for whom even a few days away from a low-wage job with no benefits or paid leave could be devastating, further exacerbating the ongoing paycheck-to-paycheck crisis they found themselves in only last week. Or those who are further victimized by the criminalization of young people of color, especially in the days when curfews and "law and order" reign.

We saw that women, low-income people and people of color were disproportionately impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the three-years-and-counting aftermath. We are sure that they are most affected now--hurricane or tropical storm.

We must continue to hold federal and local agencies accountable and ensure that the rights and needs of women and their families are protected and met. Apparently, FEMA has said it will offer no financial assistance to those who "voluntarily" evacuated, leaving this to the Red Cross and other "do-gooder" organizations. FEMA was quick to boast of its lessons learned and preparedness in anticipation of another and perhaps greater hurricane, but it now appears it will again fall far short.

We will share more information as it becomes available and have provided a list of initial resources and reports below. Most importantly, we'll continue to be in touch with our grantees over the upcoming days and weeks about how best to support them in their right to return to the Gulf Coast and recover from yet another storm.

Thank you so much,

Sangeeta Budhiraja
Program Officer
Katrina Women's Response Fund

Initial resources and reports:

"Evacuation of Gulf Coast Not Good Enough," US Human Rights Network (PDF)
Gulf Coast Human Rights Watch, US Human Rights Network
Katrina Information Network
"Three Years After Katrina, New Orleans Levee System Still Vulnerable," Democracy Now!
"Gustave is Coming," Bill Quigley, Counterpunch

Image: National Hurricane Center Gustav Graphics Archive.

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