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by Megha Satyanarayana
GULFPORT — After touring hurricane-stricken areas in Mississippi on Wednesday, a top United Nations official met with Coast residents to talk about how his international organization can aid local recovery.
Human rights are not just in the realm of war and refugees, said Walter Kalin, the U.N. representative, commenting on the human rights of internally displaced persons. Natural disasters such as Katrina present many human rights issues, as people struggle to recover on the land they have always known.
“Those who are victims of natural disasters are not second-class citizens, even if they are made to feel like that,” said the Switzerland-based Kalin to a gathering at the Good Deeds Community Center in Gulfport.
There are no conventions on the human rights of those displaced within their homeland by disasters, he said, but the U.N. is developing a series of principles to ensure that when natural disasters happen, recovery can follow the same basic principles of autonomy, democracy and government accountability.
This approach, he said, will help the displaced feel less overlooked. And although money makes the recovery go ’round, the principles can better guide the funds to the neediest, he said.
For many in Gulfport, the funds to rebuild seem just beyond reach.
“The mental stress on most of our citizens is to a breaking point,” said Gulfport Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines to Kalin. She said government officials are treating the situation in a 20-year rebuilding mode, but people need recovery help now.
Near the end of the discussion, an audience member asked what local organizations can do to give recovery power back to their citizens.
Kalin said, “What happens in Geneva has no impact if it’s not taken up at a local level.”