Written on 9 Abril 2010 – 15:24 | by donaldellis1969
Successfully rebuilding New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 will require bold new initiatives and an overhaul in how the government currently addresses and oversees disaster recovery, according to an in-depth report released this week by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies.
The “Blueprint for Gulf Coast Renewal” was written by the institute and sponsored by Oxfam America and the Jewish Funds. Additional support was provided by the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health/Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Ms. Foundation.
The report finds numerous flaws and shortcomings with the Gulf Coast recovery effort so far, and outlines a five-point plan for turning the situation around. The plan calls on the federal government and other agencies to set a six-month agenda for recovery; help evacuees who want to return come back home, whether they own, rent or live in public housing; launch a Gulf Coast Civic Works Program and other programs aimed at providing good jobs in the region; protect the region's environmental health with strong levees, restored protective wetlands and cleanup of toxins; and improve oversight and eliminate red tape to deliver recovery funds effectively to those who need it most.
“In September 2005, President Bush made a promise to 'do what it takes, and stay as long as it takes,' to rebuild the Gulf Coast,” says Chris Kromm, director of the institute and a co-author of the report. “But the Katrina recovery has been a failure — and thousands of lives are still in limbo because our country didn't keep its promise to the region.”
Among the report's other findings:
* Of the $116 billion the administration says it has spent on rebuilding the Gulf Coast since Katrina and Rita, only about 30 percent was spent on long-term recovery projects;
* FEMA's 2005 disaster relief budget included $7 billion for administrative expenses, about 22 percent of the total relief budget;
* As of this August, only 30 percent of the $16.7 billion earmarked for Community Development Block Grants had been spent;
* As of this July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had spent only 20 percent of the $8.4 billion budgeted for levee repairs in Louisiana;
* Some 60,000 families or individuals affected by hurricanes are still living in FEMA trailers; of these, 1,461 have asked to move out because of dangerous levels of formaldehyde reported in trailers;
* While 82,000 of the 200,000 Louisiana homes damaged by hurricanes Katrina or Rita were rental units, only 33,000 rental units are currently on track for rebuilding under the state's restoration programs;
* Of the 5,100 occupied public housing units in New Orleans pre-Katrina, only 1,500 are now occupied, and 3,000 are set to be demolished under plans by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Money has been budgeted to rebuild only 1,000 replacement units;
* If everyone eligible for Louisiana's Road Home rebuilding program applied for funds, the state would be $5 billion short of adequate funding;
* The New Orleans area has lost 118,000 jobs since Katrina struck, and one out of four restaurant, stores and malls remains closed;
* Of the $4.5 billion set aside for Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone projects aimed at helping Louisiana businesses to recover, only one project in New Orleans has been approved for funding. However, a developer has won GO Zone tax breaks to construct 10 luxury condos near the University of Alabama, which is four hours from the Gulf Coast;
* Only 12.5 percent of Katrina contracts had been awarded to small businesses in Louisiana as of this April. In the four months since the Department of Homeland Security pledged to increase that figure, only 7.4 percent of contracts have gone to small businesses in the state;
* The number-one reason cited by displaced Katrina evacuees for not returning to Louisiana is that they can't afford to move;
* Louisiana has only about 10 years left to restore its shrinking wetlands before its coastal communities are overtaken by encroaching waters from the Gulf of Mexico;
* Only $1.9 billion of Congress' proposed $21 billion water resources bill is earmarked for wetlands restoration in Louisiana; estimates show bringing the wetlands back to a sustainable state would cost about $14 billion;
* The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (known as MR. GO) built in 1965 has contributed to the destruction of about 100 square miles of protective wetlands; while the Corps now has plans to close the outlet, it has no plans to restore any of those lost wetlands;
* Of the seven hospitals operating in New Orleans before Katrina, only one has returned to pre-storm levels.
Institute for Southern Studies, “Two Years After Katrina: Blueprint for Gulf Renewal.” URL: (http://southernstudies.org)