South Alabama children, communities languish in BP oil spill aftermath
BP’s television advertisements proclaiming that the Gulf of Mexico is open for business have helped the tourism industry in the Gulf States rebound from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a disastrous 2010 season. But behind the sparkling beaches, the heaping plates of fresh seafood, and happy fishermen shown in BP’s ads are families living in near third-world squalor and whole communities on life support because the BP oil spill destroyed so many jobs.
A recent report in the Mobile Press-Register describes the plight of children and teenagers whose parents lost their jobs after the BP oil spill. Many families in South Alabama are living in houses with no running water or electricity because oil-spill claim money ran out months ago and a program to help families harmed by the BP disaster pay utility bills is no longer in service.
School counselors report children in middle school and high school attending class in dirty uniforms and using school facilities to bathe and wash clothes, hoping nobody notices. Some families can no longer afford medicine for their children, which often results in behavioral problems, fighting, poor performance, and poor attendance.
Domestic violence and substance abuse have become rampant in communities where BP’s oil spill decimated fishing and seafood processing jobs. Counselors at one Mobile school told the Mobile Press-Register that they are working with “emotionally scarred” girls whose desperate families prostituted them.
And there are formal studies that show the BP oil spill has threatened to throw South Alabama communities into a cycle of poverty and crime if jobs and healthy conditions aren’t restored soon. Already too many children are missing out on their education or dropping out of school altogether – a trend that does not bode well for the future in any community.
According to the Press-Register, a study conducted by the University of South Alabama found that 35 percent of students at Bryant High School in Irvington “reported being significantly and personally traumatized by the oil spill.” A third of students reported that the oil spill caused their parents to lose their jobs. Meanwhile, the number of children getting in trouble at school has soared anywhere from 20 to 100 percent in one year, depending on the school.
One state worker familiar with the oil spill’s aftermath told the Press-Register that the BP oil spill dealt a brutal blow to communities that were trying to recover from other disasters.
“You take a community that was already suffering, with Hurricane Katrina and the economy, and you layer the oil spill on top of it,” she told the Press-Register.
“What I’ve seen since the BP oil spill is that things have steadily gotten worse,” Bryant High School’s principal told the Press-Register. Like many in hard-hit south Alabama, he hopes that things can only get better from here.
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