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  Defending and Advancing the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina

Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina
•Human Rights Abuses Against Gulf Coast Residents
•US Disaster Response Law vs. Human Rights Standards
•Human Rights Reform of Governmental Response to Disasters
•A Look at US Government Support for the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
•UN Committee Calls on US Government to Protect Human Rights in Gulf Coast Recovery


Human Rights Abuses Against Gulf Coast Residents

Don’t Believe the Hype:  Gulf Coast recovery is not “slow” – it’s a privatization scheme that takes away our homes, schools, hospitals, and human rights


Several hundred thousand Gulf Coast residents are internally displaced people as a result of being evacuated away from their cities during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.  Governmental actions continue to block their ability to return home with dignity and justice, as recognized by international human rights standards.  It is predominantly African American residents who have their right to return denied by governmental actions that seek to privatize communities and public services. 


Governmental actions have created a housing crisis that unjustly prolongs the displacement of mostly African American residents, which constitutes a form of ethnic cleansing that inhumanely alters the racial composition of hurricane-affected populations. 

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency has arbitrarily denied temporary housing assistance to displaced Gulf Coast residents. 
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is actively pursuing plans that will allow private developers to demolish 70% of the public housing units in New Orleans that are home to 5,000 families and sustained little or no hurricane damage.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees a federally-funded program, known as "The Road Home Program," which establishes a confusing and inefficient application process for homeowners to receive inadequate repair/reconstruction grants, and offers no direct support for renters, who comprised the majority of the New Orleans pre-hurricane population.


Public healthcare facilities that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina remain closed, while the need for mental and physical healthcare continues to rise. 

The woefully inadequate response of governmental authorities to the dire need for rebuilding and staffing public schools caused over 300 students to be wait-listed for public school enrollment and hundreds of public school teachers to be terminated.

Although there are numerous reports prepared by non-governmental organizations documenting that reconstruction workers are abused, exploited, and discriminated against by governmental contractors, the U.S. government has failed to investigate or prevent such unjust treatment.


The US Army Corps of Engineers has refused to provide compensation to New Orleans residents who suffered massive losses as a result of substandard construction of levees and floodwalls that caused over 80% of the city of New Orleans to flood.  The Corps has produced flood risk maps showing that predominantly African American neighborhoods, which flooded during the levee breaches, will either have no reduction in flood levels or a reduction in flood levels that range from 6 inches to 2 feet.  However, predominantly white neighborhoods, which flooded during Hurricane Katrina, now have a 5.5 feet reduction in flood waters. 
Hurricane-related environmental impacts, such as toxic mold, toxic contamination of soil, and debris disposal, have been inadequately addressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Governmental inaction on these issues creates severe and negative consequences for public health and quality of life for Gulf Coast residents.

The most insidious and daunting challenge to Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina is a “recovery plan” established by the Bush Administration that denies displaced residents the right of return for the purpose of privatizing public services and turning residential communities over to private developers.  This plan:

  • Provides huge tax breaks for developers, which has created a housing crisis for Gulf Coast residents who are either locked out of public housing or unable to afford the costs of skyrocketing rents and home repairs
  • Suspends the Davis-Bacon Act, which has locked African Americans out of job opportunities and locked Latino/Caribbean immigrants into exploitive and abusive working conditions
  • Restricts civic participation by removing recovery decisions and funds from publicly accountable elected offices and placing such decision-making and funds in the hands of appointed commissions
  • Replaces public schools with charter schools which received millions of federal tax dollars (e.g., in January 2007, 300 New Orleans students were denied enrollment as a result of the failure to open and staff an adequate number of public schools)
  • Repeals and waives environmental laws that would otherwise apply to new construction and other recovery activities

Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

832 Topaz Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70124-3628
Tel. 504.799.3060
Fax 504.799.3061

Campaign & Policy Office:
1730 M Street, NW, Suite 412
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202-775-0055
Fax 202-293-7110

Monique Harden
Co-Director & Attorney

Nathalie Walker
Co-Director & Attorney

Michele Roberts
Campaign & Policy Coordinator