Minority communities in the United States experience worse health outcomes compared to their white counterparts. These disparities are not only persistent but also increasing. Health disparities affect people of color more frequently and more severely. Although disasters affect everyone, they often highlight longstanding disparities and inequities experienced by people in minority, disadvantaged communities with less power and access to resources. These groups are also disproportionately affected by disasters because of decades of systemic and environmental injustices.
According to the Rand Corporation, “Community resilience is a measure of the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations.” Communities with less power and access to resources also experience inequities during disaster response and recovery. A study by Howell and Elliott found that White families in communities with significant damage from natural disasters saw an increase in wealth due to generous reinvestment, while minority families saw a smaller increase in wealth or saw a decrease. This demonstrates not only the need for systemic reinvestment in racial and ethnic minority communities, but also the need for disaster planners to prioritize these communities, and other communities with less power and access to resources, during response.
The role of public health in the development of strategies to promote community resilience is inherent. In order to be ready, the public health infrastructure must be designed to prevent or mitigate the spread of disease, morbidity, and mortality; meet anticipated needs and surge to meet unanticipated ones; mobilize people and equipment to respond to emergencies; accommodate large numbers of people in need during an emergency; be knowledgeable about its population in order to communicate effectively with the full range of affected populations, including at-risk individuals. The recent storms in the Mississippi Delta have demonstrated that community resilience planning in these communities is not only necessary but essential for survival and growth. We need to be less reactive and more proactive in ensuring the health and safety of our communities.
Sandra C. Melvin, DrPH, MPH
Chief Executive Officer, Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health