For 15 years, Oxfam America has supported economic and community development in coastal Mississippi and Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta, which is home to some of the most persistent poverty in the country. The hundreds of thousands of people severely affected by Hurricane Katrina include many people—mostly poor, rural people of color—associated with the grassroots organizations with which we have longstanding relationships.
Oxfam has provided a first round of grants totaling $75,000 to three partner organizations in the area affected by Katrina. Oxfam is in the region working with our partners and surrounding communities to identify the scope of the needs and to move forward with the initial response. It’s clear that many people in rural Louisiana and Mississippi communities—especially African-American farmers, migrant farm workers, and immigrant dock workers—have been left devastated by storm damage, and we are concerned that they may be bypassed by much of the relief and recovery effort.
Katrina cut a wide swath across the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Delta, reaching beyond the urban centers and deep into rural areas where some of the most profound and entrenched poverty in the nation exists. 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.
As is often the case with other crises around the world, including the South Asian tsunami, poor people have been hit the hardest. Their vulnerability to Katrina’s destructive effects—reflected in the location and construction of their homes, their inability to escape from the storm’s path, and their limited resources—puts them similarly at risk of being ignored or disenfranchised during the recovery phase. Many are now without potable water, or diesel fuel to run their farm equipment. In some cases, the markets where they sold their produce have been obliterated.
As we have a clearer understanding of the needs and wishes of the communities where we work, we will step up our direct response and plan for their long-term recovery. In addition, we will explore new partnerships with other organizations that can represent the voices of the rural survivors of the storm. In the meantime, we invite people interested in supporting our work to contribute to the Hurricane Katrina Response and Recovery Fund.