U.N. rep, human rights groups concerned with problems getting displaced people to return, WWL TV

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News Reporter

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, hundred of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. But even two and half years after the storm, there is no official number and no agency in charge of figuring out how many people remain displaced from their homes.

“Unless we know how many people are displaced, where they are, we can’t adequately respond to their needs or protect their rights,” said Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies.

It’s one of the issues raised in a new report from the institute and has attracted the attention of the United Nations.

“On the one hand, Katrina has been unprecedented, but on the other hand, it’s one example of what happens to people who have to flee their homes,” said Walter Kalin, U.N. Representative on Internally Displaced Persons.

Kalin has traveled the world, seeing how armed conflict and natural disasters cause people to flee within their own countries. He said what happened during Katrina was no different.

“Their problems, in a way, are very similar to the problems of people I have seen in other parts of the world,” Kalin said.

Kalin, along with other human rights groups, want the federal government to incorporate into law international standards for dealing with displaced people.

“Displacement ends when you as an individual, as a family, as a community, no longer have needs that are linked to having been displaced,” Kalin said.

Among the recommendations: make affordable housing a top priority, create a system for storm evacuation that gets people out of danger and then helps bring them home, and find a way to better coordinate aid provided by foreign governments, when nearly a billion dollars in aid from U.S. allies was either turned down or delayed.

They groups said that the current disaster law—the Stafford Act—fails take that into account.

“It wasn’t designed for a catastrophe of this magnitude,” said Nathalie Walker, co-director for the Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.

Kalin said he also plans to travel to Mississippi and added that his trip to New Orleans was not a fact-finding mission, but rather a follow-up visit, stemming from previo