Hurricane Ida Puts Low-Income Populations At Most Risk

On Sunday, 29 September 2021, the New York Times reported that Hurricane Ida was responsible for the deaths of at least “43 people” in over four states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. The hurricane also caused intense flooding and power outages of thousands of homes in Gulf states such as Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida. Labeled as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds up to 145 miles per hour, many states have declared the onslaught of the hurricane as a “public health emergency” and a “major disaster.” Compounded by the effects of persisting structural inequities and climate change, many communities, particularly low-income populations, remain incredibly vulnerable to the storm’s aftermath. 

To fully understand the potential long-term impact of the storm on the groups mentioned above, we must examine the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. According to Vox, similar to Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Katrina was a Category 4 storm that devastated many lives and severely destroyed city infrastructure. These effects were very profound in New Orleans, Louisiana, where a “botched relief effort” by federal and state authorities left residents with little aid and financial compensation.

Rather than government aid, monetary compensation, and the availability of affordable housing for displaced groups, privatization was justified by attempts to “rebuild infrastructure” for the sake of profitability. Moreover, in “Chronic disaster syndrome: Displacement, disaster capitalism, and the eviction of the poor from New Orleans,” the authors elaborate that due to corporate interests and ineffective government response, gentrification and soaring insurance prices exacerbated existing structural inequalities. Known as “disaster capitalism,” companies serve to profit from the onslaught of climate disasters while those displaced bear the brunt of it. 

Similarly, human-induced climate change underlies the increasing severity of climate disasters internationally, disproportionately affecting the poor. According to the United Nations Climate Change 2021 Report, “human influence” is the primary factor affecting the “widespread and rapid changes” in the warming of the Earth’s “atmosphere, ocean, and land.” This warming is attributed to the Earth’s inability to absorb heightened carbon emissions that have dramatically increased in the past century.

Therefore, these emissions cause the Earth to “trap additional heat,” thus “raising Earth’s average temperature,” melting ice, and rising sea levels, which make for more frequent, unpredictable, and damaging storms. Subsequently, those with limited resources face the most risk as they have less capacity to adapt to a sudden disruption of their livelihoods caused by such storms. 

Furthermore, in the case of Hurricane Ida, policymakers must consider these factors to guide future decisions as uncertainty continues to loom over climate concerns. First, as seen from the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, policymakers should create sustainable long-term solutions to ensure residents have adequate access to housing options, federal aid, and substantive government assistance. More important, however, is an increased effort to work alongside communities that will be affected most by climate disasters.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in the short term, local and federal governments must collaborate with civil society and its leaders to identify the vulnerabilities of low-income communities to climate change. By focusing on a bottom-up approach, governments can better integrate local concerns and knowledge of these communities into policy decisions that affect them. 

On a broader level, we as a society must give serious consideration to new research that outlines dramatically different climate scenarios. Though the Earth’s warming can’t be prevented entirely, the United Nations states that mitigating the harshest effects of climate change will require “strong, rapid, and sustained reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions. Accomplishing this task will require the most significant contributors to these emissions to commit to policies that adhere to the guidance of new climate research. Failure to do so will result in exacerbated consequences for the aforementioned populations, who experience the worst impacts of climate change.