Sheikh Chic

While hurricane recovery may seem achingly slow to locals living with its day-to-day challenges, frequent visitors to New Orleans often remark on the progress between their trips made evident across the city. One recent visitor in particular had a special reason to celebrate the city’s steps forward, since he bankrolled approximately $100 million worth of post-Katrina improvements.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Amir of the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, toured New Orleans to inspect the work to which his country’s financial contributions have been put. Through its Qatar Katrina Fund, the country established a program to support local groups building recovery projects with the potential for long-term impacts in health, education and housing.

“In times like these, we are reminded that we are all neighbors in a fragile world,” the Amir said during a reception for him at Xavier University, one of the key stops on his tour.

While at Xavier, the Amir and his entourage attended a groundbreaking ceremony for an expansion of the College of Pharmacy. Qatar provided $12.5 million for the project, plus an additional $5 million for scholarships. Xavier is among the nation’s top three producers of blacks with doctor of pharmacy degrees.

“It’s going to allow us to help those students to finish their educations,” says Xavier University president Norman Francis.

The largest chunk of Qatar’s funding went to Habitat for Humanity, which received $22 million to build 293 homes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Another $20 million was divided between Louisiana State, Loyola, Tulane and Xavier universities for scholarships earmarked for close to 2,100 students whose lives were impacted by Katrina.

Qatar’s largesse provided Children’s Hospital with $5.4 million, the largest single gift in the Uptown institution’s history, which is being used to pay for care for uninsured children and to repair two storm-damaged clinics. And a gift of $5 million is helping fund Tulane’s Community Health Care Clinic and a mobile unit to bring health care services directly to residents across the area.

Last year the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace compiled a roster of funds donated by more than 50 nations after Katrina. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged at least $100 million; even poverty-stricken nations made contributions, including a gift of $25,000 to the Red Cross from Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from the devastating tsunami that struck there in 2004.

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