Bring it on Home: A Gulf Coast Marshall Plan Based on International Humanitarian Standards

72 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2007 Last revised: 31 Mar 2008


The article is a critique of the U.S. government's response to regional recovery following Hurricane Katrina, coupled with an argument that policies based on international standards would better serve the hurricane-stricken area. The author contends that part of the problem is that the legal framework for disaster relief, the federal Stafford Act, is insufficient for shaping recovery for catastrophic humanitarian crises that overwhelm state and local governments. Because the Act calls only for discretionary, intermittent federal efforts, and shields such efforts with broad legal immunity, it is a prescription for the sluggish and ineffective governmental action that has hamstrung the Gulf region's recovery.

The author maintains that what is needed is a comprehensive recovery program akin to the post World War II Marshall Plan. International standards for humanitarian responses to disaster, specifically the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, serve as a policy framework for such a program. The Principles allow for recognition that a crisis on the scale of Katrina calls for a more robust, centralized, federally-led response that addresses the scope of the problem and the interdependency of its many facets.

The article has five parts. First is an analysis of the situation in the region, focusing on the New Orleans area. Here the author identifies three categories of problems - the problem of return and rebuilding, focusing on private property and civic infrastructure; the problem of security, focusing on flood protection, levees, and wetlands; and the problem of government, focusing on inefficiency, incompetence and inadequate resource allocation.

The article's second part analyzes the problem in the law. The Stafford Act is reviewed and judicial criticisms discussed. Part three of the article reviews the specific provisions of the Guiding Principles that apply to the Gulf Coast. The author considers the legal status of the Principles, concluding that while certain of the principles may be evolving into customary international law, they are not legally binding but rather intended as a general policy framework.

In the fourth part of the article, the author recommends the following sixteen point "Marshall Plan for the Gulf" based on the Principles:

1. The federal government will assume primary responsibility for an integrated recovery effort. 2. All persons displaced or injured by the disaster have recovery rights. 3. Displaced persons willing to return have a right to return and their displacement will end as soon as possible. 4. Living conditions will be established that are materially sufficient to allow persons to return and remain. 5. The government will assist persons whose homes are recoverable to repair and rebuild, and must ensure access to decent and affordable housing. 6. Comprehensive, reliable flood protection measures will be taken, including strengthened levees and coastal wetlands. 7. Ineffective bureaucracies will be replaced by streamlined, efficient, effective and easily understood administrative processes for relief and recovery. 8. The military will be deployed for debris removal and rebuilding. 9. Personal property and possessions will be protected and disaster victims will be reasonably compensated for losses. 10. Gulf Coast residents will have access to health care. 11. The government will reopen schools and take other measures to ensure education for all children in stricken communities. 12. The government will take steps to increase economic opportunities in stricken areas, such as partnerships, incentives and assistance for businesses which reopen or locate in the region. 13. The right of evacuees to participate in politics and civic life must be ensured. 14. Storm victims will be included in recovery planning. 15. Anti-discrimination measures will be enforced to ensure that the disaster and recovery do not have a discriminatory effect. 16. The special needs of at risk groups will be met.

In the fifth part of the article, the author posits that U.S. adoption of the Principles as the basis for international disaster recovery efforts forms a moral and political basis for their domestic application in the Gulf. This is demonstrated by formal U.S. policy promoting the Principles as well as actual U.S. implementation of the Principles in Iraq and in response to the 2004 tsunamis.

Keywords: Human Rights, Public Policy

Suggested Citation

Martel, Charlie, Bring it on Home: A Gulf Coast Marshall Plan Based on International Humanitarian Standards. Vermont Law Review, Vol. 32, Book 1, Fall 2007, Available at SSRN:

Charlie Martel (Contact Author)

Lewis and Clark Law School ( email )

United States
7036355585 (Phone)

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