A deadly cyclone in Myanmar. A devastating earthquake in China. Cataclysmic twisters across the American Midwest. It seems that almost everyday, there is a natural disaster that commands the world's attention and compassion. That so many have done so much for people both near and far is a sign of the basic decency of human beings in general and Americans in particular.
Almost three years ago, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck our gulf coast, we saw a similar outpouring of attention and support. One of the lessons of Katrina is that the needs of people affected by these horrific disasters persist long after the cameras and dignitaries have moved on. Significant parts of the city of New Orleans, as well as the coastal regions of Mississippi and Alabama still need our help and I am proud that the National Urban League has not forgotten.
One of the things that makes the National Urban League so unique is our ability to quickly respond to local and regional crises through our network of strong affiliates across the country.
Immediately after the storms struck, and it became evident that the federal response was woefully inadequate, we joined with the Congressional Black Caucus and others to call for a Katrina Bill of Rights which would guarantee the tens of thousands of displaced citizens the right to recover, return, rebuild, work and vote. Those principles have continued to guide many of the private and public recovery efforts that have sprung up since August of 2005.
Part of our long-term outreach has included the development of the Gulf Coast Economic Empowerment Program. BP America has partnered with us to establish this program that has helped more than 400 small and minority construction-related firms in the region participate in redevelopment projects. With nearly $10 billion worth of public and private projects up for grab, we believe that small and minority businesses must get their fair share.
As part of the program, we are conducting a series of Empowerment Tours, to put local small and minority businesses directly in touch with government and private contractors in need of contracting assistance. Upcoming tours will be held in Lake Charles, La. on May 21; Port Arthur, Texas on July 9; and New Orleans in September.
The noted hurricane forecast team at Colorado State University has predicted a "well above average" storm season this year, with at least one major hurricane expected to hit the United States. We hope that the nation has learned from the lesson of Katrina that we must be ready to respond as soon as these storms hit and long after they have gone.
Marc Morial is the executive director of the National Urban League.