22 September 2008

"Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Reveal Need for Continued Attention to Gulf Coast Communities"

The Ms. Foundation joins the Equity and Inclusion Campaign in calling on the federal government to confront poverty and inequity in Gulf Coast recovery. We recently signed onto their joint press statement, which highlights key issues laid bare by the most recent storms:

Re: Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Reveal Need for Continued Attention to Gulf Coast Communities

In the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, we, the undersigned Gulf Coast advocates and allies from the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, urge the federal government to renew its focus on building strong, resilient Gulf Coast communities. We are especially concerned about our region’s most vulnerable citizens who are the most impacted by the recent hurricanes as well as the unfinished recovery from the 2005 hurricanes.

While the media has focused its coverage of the storms on metropolitan areas, recovery in seriously impacted rural areas, specifically the southern coastal parishes of Louisiana, will also require serious, sustained attention so that these communities may rebuild and the area’s natural barriers to storms may be restored. Families, who have lived safely for generations in southeastern coastal Louisiana, suffered from major devastation caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, as well as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Specifically, Terrebone and Lafourche parishes, where basic services such as power and clean water have been unavailable for more than two weeks, suffered a double blow from the two recent hurricanes. This destruction is invariably linked to the unnatural coastal landloss. Coastal Louisiana south of Houma, where Gustav made landfall, has been losing barrier islands and wetlands – its natural defenses from major storms – as consequences of the oil, gas and navigation industries. The area also lacks hurricane protection levee systems that protect residents in other parts of Louisiana. Despite this, coastal Louisiana provides a third of the nationʼs domestic energy supply. Also, Mississippi and Alabama’s barrier islands, which shelter fishing grounds and provide crucial storm protection and surge protection for coastal inhabitants, were severely eroded by Hurricane Katrina. We hope that the recent disaster motivates the government to reverse the Gulf Coast’s tragic story of coastal landloss and erosion.

While we commend government agencies for improving their readiness and for being in place to mitigate Gustav and Ike’s effects, we ask them to address the impact of evacuation and displacement on those still trying to return and fully recover from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and now Gustav and Ike. Many people are still suffering financial, physical and emotional stress from the 2005 hurricanes. Their homes have not been rebuilt, their incomes have diminished while their expenses have increased, and their communities are still in disrepair. Evacuation and displacement make these citizens vulnerable to the new hardships created by the recent hurricanes, and they need immediate, effective assistance. Wage workers, who have no income when they cannot work, are especially vulnerable. Additionally, those still experiencing emotional trauma from the tragedy and loss of previous hurricanes are forced to relive negative experiences as they are taken to shelters with inadequate capacity and care.

We appreciate the President's designation of Louisiana as a federal disaster area and FEMA's assistance to individuals who have been displaced by Gustav, but we ask that FEMA’s plan for assistance be redesigned to address its shortcomings. FEMA must provide compensations to those individuals who paid for hotel stays away from their homes and provide stipends for food and gasoline. Without recoupment of these extraordinary expenses, residents will not be able to afford rent, utilities and other basic expenses because they used these precious resources to fund their mandatory evacuations from their communities. Furthermore, without this incentive, we worry that our residents will not heed the call for mandatory evacuation in the future.

Additionally, we urge the federal government to take action in providing federal disaster designations to Mississippi so that individuals affected by Hurricane Gustav may receive adequate assistance and begin the process of recovery. More than two weeks after the storm, comprehensive assessments of coastal communities in Mississippi have not yet been completed, creating financial uncertainty and undue suffering. Storm surges and floods in both states resulted in displacement especially for those living in temporary shelter since the 2005 hurricanes.

The threat posed by major storms has always been a fact of life in our region. As our communities begin the long journey to recover from Hurricane Gustav, we also prepare for the possibility of another disaster during this very active hurricane season. We urge our government leaders and the nation to consider Hurricanes Gustav and Ike as reminders that resources and attention are still required to strengthen communities across the Gulf Coast region, a region rich in natural resources and an irreplaceable asset to our nation's economy, culture and history.

About the Equity and Inclusion Campaign:
The Equity and Inclusion Campaign is a policy advocacy and public messaging campaign advocating for fulfillment of the federal commitment to confront persistent poverty and inequity during the Gulf Coast recovery. The Campaign draws together grassroots leaders from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to influence Congress and the executive branch so that historically disenfranchised groups have the resources and authority necessary to improve their lives and rebuild their communities.

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