New Orleans, LA – When the economic and environmental impacts of the BP Oil disaster first became apparent in the days immediately after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, communities along the coast responded quickly. They activated their emergency response plans, convened community meetings, and coordinated with first responders to prepare for both the inevitable and the unknown.
That response, developed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and honed during Hurricane Gustav in 2008, has been one of the many bright spots in the four months since the rig exploded, taking the lives of 11 workers and causing as yet untold economic and environmental damage. Since the first days after Katrina Oxfam has been working closely with coastal communities to train leaders, strengthen communities, and position Oxfam’s partners and allies along the coast to address long-standing issues of social, economic and environmental vulnerability.
On the fifth anniversary of Katrina, Oxfam and our partners are taking stock of the work that remains to be done, as well as the victories that have been won over the past five years. Those include:
Helping to start new grassroots organizations whose efforts have had far-reaching effects in terms of bringing excluded voices to the policymaking arena, including Coastal Women for Change, Zion Travelers Cooperative Center,and the Steps Coalition.
Working to strengthen existing organizations, such as the Mississippi state chapter of the NAACP and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), as they developed into even stronger advocacy forces that have brought the voices of traditionally marginalized populations into local, state ,and national policymaking processes.
Getting the state of Mississippi to raise the maximum reconstruction grant available to low-income homeowners from $50,000 to $100,000;
Persuading Mississippi governor Haley Barbour to create a $100 million fund for long-term workforce housing;
Persuading Barbour to return $30 million in Community Development Block Grant funds diverted to port development to support low-income housing, and,
Helping Oxfam partner MIRA recover more than $1 million in back pay and unsettled money judgments owed by employers to immigrant workers.
“We’ve seen many wins and a few setbacks over the past five years, but the victories have been remarkable” said Oxfam’s Gulf Coast program director Rhonda Jackson. “It’s easy to look at the anniversary and consider the work finished. But it’s not. The oil spill is a reminder that the Gulf Coast has depended far too much on the resiliency of individuals and families in the region. Private and public investments are needed along with community resolve to reduce vulnerability and promote recovery."
Oxfam staff is working closely with the same partners and allies they’ve been working with since hurricanes Katrina and Rita to respond to the oil spill. This week Oxfam released One Gulf, resilient Gulf, a report offering a roadmap to recovery from the oil spill. Endorsed by more than 120 different Gulf Coast and national organizations, the report will be presented to Sec. Ray Mabus who is leading the effort to create an oil spill recovery plan for the Obama administration.
“Community resolve along the coast is always tremendous and inspiring,” said Jackson. “These communities have led the way in recovery for the past five years. Oxfam will do everything it can to make sure their voices are heard and they are followed.”