States Ignore Minorities in Climate-Related Disaster Plans

Authors: New America Media

Minority populations across the south and southwest are especially vulnerable to climate change, according to a new report put out by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Local and state governments, it also found, are failing to integrate such concerns into their climate disaster plans.

“Only three states (Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico) have climate change plans,” noted the study’s co-author, Nadia Siddiqui, during a teleconference Monday discussing the findings. She added researchers found “no evidence of planning for racially and ethnically diverse populations in any state” included in the study.

Siddiqui is Senior Health Policy Analyst with the Texas Health Institute (THI), which conducted the study.

Joint Center President and CEO Ralph B. Everett said in the report the project’s aim is to “encourage the development of policies that engage diverse populations while bringing environmental justice to their communities.”

The states included in the study, titled Climate Change, Environmental Challenges and Vulnerable Communities: Assessing Legacies of the Past, Building Opportunities for the Future, were Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Siddiqui pointed out the results were based in part on reviews of existing Web sites and literature relating to plans for coping with climate change, as well as from talks with “representatives from across the states.” All agreed, she said, “this is an area that has not been fully planned for.”

Part of the problem, she explained, is a lack of awareness among policymakers of the varying degrees of vulnerability to climate change from one community to the next. Such issues as poverty, little to no access to health care and other social inequities common to minority communities make them more susceptible to the damaging effects of climate change, she said.

According to the report, nearly one in five residents living in the region fall below the federal poverty line, one in five adults describe their health status as fair or poor, and one in 10 people have Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

“For many communities, the convergence of socio-economic, health, and climate concerns elevates their risk for a climate change related perfect storm,” Siddiqui said.

Using Louisiana as an example, she pointed to the high rates of poverty coexisting alongside “concentrations of diversity, high rates of obesity, healthcare access challenges… and all of that combined with climate concerns (sea level rise, poor air quality). It is the convergence of all these issues that elevates and puts these communities at risk.”

Minority communities have long borne the brunt of environmental degradation in this country. A recent article by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, executive director with the Oakland-based Green for All, which advocates for the adoption of clean energy, noted “that of the 8 million people living within three miles of polluting coal-fired power plants, a disproportionate number are people of color.”

Citing statistics showing that one-in-six African American children suffers from asthma as a result of their proximity to toxic industries, compared to one-in-ten nationally, Ellis-Lamkins writes elected officials will “have to pay more attention to the issues pressing [minority] families.”

THI Senior Research Scientist Dennis Andrulis agrees. During Monday’s teleconference he noted that part of the solution has to come through the political engagement of minority groups. “[We must] integrate vulnerable populations,” he said, taking their concerns and using them to build representation through task forces and advisory groups.

“We found that there were a number of [these] advisory groups,” Andrulis said. “But rarely was there any attention to vulnerable populations in these groups, in their missions, in their objectives… communities of color were almost totally absent.”

“Despite the heightened sense of alarm, states and many communities are ignoring these communities in their disaster planning and other initiatives,” Andrulis said in an email release. “In moving forward state and local officials must do a better job of making sure those most vulnerable are a core part of their plans and actions.”

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