UN official says US failing to meet the needs of tens of thousands displaced by Katrina, USA Today

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by Cain Burdeau
A United Nations official who has toured parts of Louisiana and Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina says the thousands of victims of the storm resemble poor people displaced by natural disasters in other parts of the world.

“Whether you’re displaced in a rich country or a poor country, what remains the same is you need to get the help, the assistance of the authorities, of the communities, to be able to restart a normal life, and the people I have met are not there yet,” said Walter Kalin, the UN secretary general’s representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

Kalin spoke Wednesday, a day when he also saw hard-hit areas of the two states. He met Tuesday with evacuees in Houston.

The United Nations’ human rights committee has been critical of the Bush administration’s efforts to help people displaced by Katrina, particularly those without the financial means to rebuild.

Federal officials deny that evacuees have received inadequate aid, noting that billions of dollars have been spent to house hurricane victims in apartments, trailers and other homes.

Since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, the government has spent more than $7.7 billion on housing for about 1.4 million households, according to figures from the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding.

Many evacuees will continue to be housed until March 2009, said Tara Wall, a spokeswoman for the federal coordinator’s office. She said the government has also set up programs to help displaced evacuees return to New Orleans.

“We are constantly working with state, local and federal partners to restore, rebuild and improve the quality of life for displaced New Orleanians and we’ve made great strides,” Wall said.

Kalin said his mission was to encourage American officials to abide by a set of UN principles on “internally displaced persons” that say “you must start with the most needy, you have to find ways to reconstruct housing that is affordable.”