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2021 Atlantic hurricane season showed the US isn’t prepared for climate-related disasters that push people deeper into poverty
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2021 Atlantic hurricane season showed the US isn’t prepared for climate-related disasters that push people deeper into poverty

A young man walks through furniture and household items strewn about by the hurricane, rescuing his mother's belongings.


Hurricane Ida struck New Orleans in 2021 on Aug. 29, 2021 16 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The levees held the day. Billions of dollars invested in reinforcing them had paid off – at least for part of the population.

There is still a strong similarity between Katrina and Ida: Communities of low income and communities of color remain at high riskFrom hurricanes.

As scholars who study refugees and migrationWith each climate-related disaster, we are seeing that communities are being forced into permanent displacement, homelessness, and deeper poverty. The United States government could prevent much of this by investing in preparedness and protecting vulnerable communities.

‘Hunker down’

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Catrell, despite years of preparations, said that there was no time for a mandatory evacuation order because Ida quickly intensified into an extremely powerful Category 4 hurricane. She urged city residents to “hunker down.” Mass evacuations require coordination among multiple parishes and states, and there wasn’t enough time. In several surrounding parishes, people were told to evacuate, but in low-lying and flood-prone areas, many residents couldn’t afford to leave.

Hurricane Ida made it the most destructive stormYou can find the busy 2021 Atlantic hurricane seasonIt was the last of the, which ended on November 30. It was one of eight named stormsTo hit the U.S.A. as the season exhausted 21 tropical storm names third year on record.

While many New Orleans residents breathed a sigh of relief as Ida’s storm surge subsided, the damage outside the city’s levee system was devastating.

In St. John the Baptist Parish, about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, Ida’s storm surge flooded the largest town, LaPlaceThe residents of LaPlace have suffered many natural disasters over time. Most LaPlace residents couldn’t afford to evacuate. People fled LaPlace when the storm struck. pleaded for boat rescues. Two months later, residents were still waiting for repairsSome were considering leaving permanently, while others were still contemplating.

The risk of permanent displacement for native communities living in the bayous and coastal Louisiana is also present. The Houma people are an example of this, as they saw many of their neighbors being relocated. homes damaged or destroyed. The Houma were recognized by the state as a tribeSince 1972, but are not recognized federally and are therefore not eligible for federal community aid. Instead, members apply for assistance as private citizens. Many were left without housing, and their displacement erodes the Houma’s sense of community and connection to their land.

A young man walks through furniture and household items strewn about by the hurricane, rescuing his mother's belongings.
Many homes in LaPlace (La.) were destroyed by Hurricane Ida.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

FEMA aid favors wealthy homeowners

The legacy of segregation in many parts of the United States means that low-income communities are more likely live in high-risk areas. For example, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston in 2017. low-income neighborhoods were most affected. According to Greater Houston Flood Mitigation ConsortiumA quarter of multifamily housing is affordable and located within a floodplain that is being mapped. It is susceptible to flooding in the future.

As disasters become more frequentLow-income individuals without adequate assistance in flood and hurricane-prone areas are likely going to be permanently relocated in a warming world. It will be too costly to rebuild.

Climate-related emergencies are handled by agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. The good news is that there are many other agencies that can help with climate-related emergencies. absence of any central coordinating agency means the government’s response tends to be disorganized and can even contribute to deepening inequalities.

FEMA is the main source for funding after disasters. focuses primarily on recovery and reconstructionproperty, which favors homeowners and wealthy individuals. The allocation of aid is determined by cost-benefit calculations, which are intended to minimize taxpayer risk.

When property values are higher, FEMA’s payments for damages are higher, making it easier for wealthier neighborhoods to rebuild. Therefore, most of the funds are not granted to those who have the greatest need but instead to those whose property has more value.

A boy with a furrowed brow and sad look sits in a boat with his family as they check on flooded mobile homes.
Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc on low-income communities along Louisiana’s coastline.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

People with more resources may be able to apply for aid more easily, while those without internet access or up-to-date information can find the process too difficult and time-consuming.

FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program provides financial assistance to those who are uninsured, but the program cannot pay for all disaster-related losses. Federal assistance is available as a loan, or as a FEMA grant for approximately US$5,000 per household. However, the average flood insurance claimFEMA estimates that 2018 saw an increase in spending of more than $40,000

The National Flood Insurance ProgramIt is affordable for those who have the means to pay the insurance. But those who are uninsured aren’t able to recover their losses. The most at-risk are the ones that are most at risk in disaster cycles. cannot access fundingEither to prepare for or to recover from disasters.

FEMA grants can be used to rebuild and recover homes in the event of flooding. They may also be eligible for a tax refund if they have higher incomes. People who are wealthy are more likely to apply. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans.

Low-income families, who are often uninsured or rent a home, are in contrast receive smaller grantsFEMA and do not qualifyDue to low credit scores, you may qualify for substantial tax refunds or SBA loan loans.

A man moves cabinet in a kitchen with a missing roof and walls splattered with mud from the storm. Grand Isle, La.
Federal disaster assistance focuses on rebuilding homes damaged in disasters, even those in high-risk areas.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Also, wealthy families often receive help through their employers and have more flexibility when it comes to taking time off to recuperate and take care of their family. Low-income families don’t have the luxury of leaving their jobs. Many lose them due to natural disasters or business closures.

This means that those who have more possessions and a higher income experience a much different recovery process than those who have fewer. Climate disasters can drive less-privileged people and people who don’t own property into debtAs they are displaced, they lose their jobs and must now pay higher rent and housing prices due to reduced housing options.

How government could be of assistance

Social scientists have been saying for decadesNatural disasters can increase inequalities. Houston and New Orleans are two examples of inadequate short-term emergency response.

The U.S. government can reduce the risk and impact of displacement by planning for and preparing. both slow- and rapid-onset events.

It can shift from a disaster response focused on restoring property to one that protects those most at-risk. The federal government is making some steps in this direction. It increased the range of assistance available in September 2021. It also expanded the types of home ownership and occupancy documentsIt accepts, a change meant for those living in homes passed down through generations. lack clear ownership documents. These changes need to be made public as part a wider government strategy for increasing protection for low-income residents.

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Ideally, the government could establish a climate-related migration agency to research how at-risk areas will become affected and work with residents in finding solutions. We have found that agencies that work closely with local communities are the most efficient.

By strengthening protection in high-risk areas and supporting low income communities that have been affected by disasters, we can reduce economic and political division, population loss, and economic decline, as well as increase protection for all.

This article was updated Dec. 1 with the 2021 hurricane season’s final numbers.


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