New Orleans Pursues Foreign Aid

The cash-strapped city of New Orleans is turning to the rest of the world for help to rebuild as federal hurricane recovery dollars remain slow to flow.

Kenya Smith, director of intergovernmental relations for Mayor Ray Nagin, said city leaders are talking with more than five countries. He would not identify the countries, saying discussions were in the early stages. But he said the city is "very serious" about pursuing foreign help.

"Of course, we would love to have all the resources we need from federal and state partners but we're comfortable now in having to be creative," Smith said. He did not know what obstacles the city would have to overcome if it got firm pledges for aid, but "we want to make sure we're leaving no options unexplored."

"While this is not the easiest route," Smith said, "it is what it is."

For months, Nagin has complained that bureaucracy is choking the flow of much-needed federal aid dollars to New Orleans; slowing the city's recovery. As of June 8, the city said it had received just over half of the $320 million (euro240.5 million) that the government has obligated for rebuilding city infrastructure and emergency response-related costs.

The city has estimated its damage at far more than that; at least $1 billion (euro750 million). Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, bursting levees and flooding 80 percent of New Orleans.

Discussions with foreign representatives have been happening on and off, but Smith said the city became re-engaged after a news report in April that millions of dollars in aid offered by foreign countries after Hurricane Katrina went unaccepted by the federal government.

It was not clear how much of the original aid offered, $854 million (euro642 million), remained on the table. One of the original offers came from Cuban President Fidel Castro, who proposed sending more than 1,000 medical personnel to New Orleans.

The federal government accepted about $126 million (euro94.7 million) from foreign sources and encouraged some countries to give instead to private groups such as Katrina Fund sponsored by former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told a congressional committee last month.

Nagin said city officials are now trying to skirt the Bush administration and contact foreign governments directly "to see if we can get some of those dollars coming here."

Separately, Adam Sharp, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said Landrieu is working with the government of Saudi Arabia on ways it can help restore New Orleans' City Park.

In addition, Landrieu joined some colleagues in asking Rice to respond to whether the United States is better positioned now to accept foreign aid should the need arise again.