In response to inadequate government coordination and delivery of aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, Oxfam America has launched, for the first time in its 35-year history, a relief effort within the United States. While we have conducted relief operations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America for decades, we learned from our local partner organizations in the Gulf Coast region that they were not getting the help they needed. As a result, we are now distributing food, supplies, and electric generators to some of the hardest-hit residents of Biloxi, Mississippi, and are also providing emergency grants to local organizations in the region.
A major obstacle has been the lack of centralized coordination. “In many of the chaotic overseas emergencies in which we’ve worked, we’ve had a much better idea of who was doing what than we do right now, and a better sense of what the government’s response was likely to be,” Mr. Offenheiser said.
To date, Oxfam America’s response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation includes working with local congregations in Biloxi to provide up to 1,000 meals a day and sheltering up to 150 people a night. We have also provided a first round of emergency funding to a number of local groups including:
- A grant to Vision of Hope, a local social service group, which will enable homeowners to obtain $200 vouchers to buy materials needed to make their homes watertight before another storm passes through.
- Grants to each of three organizations working in the Gulf region that support rural agricultural and fishing communities.
- A donation for prescription drugs and other needed supplies which will be distributed by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Biloxi.
As with the South Asian tsunami, poor people have been hit the hardest. They had limited resources and few choices for escape from the storm’s path. The hurricane ripped roofs off houses, knocked out power, blocked roads, and flattened farmers’ fields, leaving already-marginalized people homeless and with no means to support themselves.
Oxfam America has been asked by several partner organizations with whom it has worked to focus its emergency response on marginalized communities. In addition, Oxfam America will explore new partnerships with other organizations working in the region. In the meantime, Oxfam America welcomes contributions to its Hurricane Katrina Response and Recovery Fund.