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Seventeen years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, damaging 80 percent of the city with some neighborhoods swallowed by over 10 feet of water. Now, the effects of climate change are becoming much more frequent.
Just last year around this same time, New Orleans took another hit from Hurricane Ida.
And today, residents of Jackson, Mississippi are being warned to “get out” or face a similar fate as New Orleans.
According to CNN, “Authorities earlier predicted Mississippi’s Pearl River to reach 36 feet and crest by Tuesday due to the rain, but the river is now expected to crest late Sunday through Monday evening before slowly lowering.”
Governor Tate Reeves has declared a state of emergency with Jackson and surrounding towns directly at the center of the flood danger.
What do all three of these events have in common? The disasters landed in places that are or once were homes to predominantly Black and low-income families.
Climate Change hits Black communities hardest
Activists have been begging the U.S. government to address climate change for decades. And now that parts of California are burning and sliding into the Pacific, there’s a panic and dump in funding and policy to stop this existential threat. But, where’s the relief for Black communities?
Before Katrina, 67.3 percent of New Orleans was Black. After the hurricane, that number dropped to 58.8 percent.
Fifty-one percent of those that died during the hurricane were Black and 96,000 Black people were displaced. In 2015 – over 10 years after the storm – 80 percent of white New Orleanians reported that they’d recovered from Katrina while 60 percent of Black residents said the same. We can probably assume the Katrina trauma was reactivated with Ida.
In Jackson, Mississippi where 82.5 percent of the population is Black, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said, “Whether or not we have the same number of homes that are affected this time, for those homes that are affected, that’s a handful too many that can be impacted. So, we want to make sure that we have the mitigation after we have recovery, that this no longer has to be commonplace in the city of Jackson.”
After enduring the first major flood in 2020, the words “That this no longer has to be commonplace in the city of Jackson” is key. Because researchers are predicting things are only going to get worse, all Black communities repeatedly facing the same dangers due to climate change have to demand similar or better mitigations.
Data shows disproportionate harm
Research shows that by midcentury, the top 20 percent of proportionally Black census tracts will be at twice the flood risk as the 20 percent of areas with the lowest proportion of Black residents. In addition to that, Black people are 40 percent more likely than other groups to live in places where extreme temperatures will cause more deaths.
“What we’re seeing is that those with the least capacity to respond to these disasters are being asked to shoulder the burden,” said Oliver Wing, honorary research fellow at Bristol University’s Cabot Institute for the Environment in the U.K. and the study’s lead author. “That’s just fundamentally wrong.”
Communities of color are less likely to have readily available resources to escape impending catastrophes. Forbes reports, “Low-lying areas, which are predominantly low-income and communities of color, are at risk of hurricanes causing catastrophic flooding.
A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found more than 30% of Black New Orleans residents didn’t own cars when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, making it difficult for them to leave ahead of the storm.”
More resources needed in Black communities
And despite the recent passing of the trillion-dollar clean energy and infrastructure bill, environmental justice experts claim that it contains little to address the underlying conditions that put poor people and people of color in harm’s way.
Pandemics, fires and floods are ravaging the earth and, per usual, communities of color are the victims of environmental redlining.
Yes there are Black-led organizations working to fight climate change but they cannot do it alone. In the government’s haste to combat an issue that’s been a threat for generations, its urgency needs to also include equitable measures to protect Black communities that are currently and literally drowning due to climate change.