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Marginalized Groups Along the Gulf Coast Will Face the Greatest Risks

By Greg Padgett

With the 2024 Hurricane Season officially underway – forecasters are predicting what could be a historic year for hurricane activity. With increased storm frequency and intensity expected, Gulf Coast communities are bracing for significant impacts. Looking back to the 2020 and 2021 seasons provides some examples of what Gulf Coast communities may face in an extremely active year. During the record-setting 2020 hurricane season, six of the 30 named storms that formed came ashore in Louisiana – including devastating Category 4 Hurricane Laura which impacted the Lake Charles region of the state. Louisiana suffered an extreme impact again in 2021 when Category 4 Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon. These back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes are tied for the strongest storms on record to impact the state. Gulf Coast communities, already vulnerable to extreme weather events, once again face heightened risks with an extremely active season likely upon us which could have devastating consequences.

Increased Threats to Gulf Coast Communities

A more active hurricane season poses multiple threats to Gulf Coast communities. From severe flooding to destructive winds, the impacts of more frequent and intense hurricanes are far-reaching:

  1. Displacement and Housing Insecurity: Hurricanes can cause widespread destruction of homes, leading to displacement and long-term housing insecurity. Communities, particularly those with lower socioeconomic status, often lack the resources to rebuild quickly or effectively, leading to prolonged displacement and hardship. These risks are compounded for Indigenous and other front-line communities, many of these groups call coastal Louisiana home.
  2. Economic Vulnerability: Many Gulf Coast communities rely on industries such as fishing, tourism, and agriculture, all of which can be severely disrupted by hurricanes. The economic fallout from these disruptions can be long-lasting, compounding the financial vulnerabilities of already struggling communities.
  3. Health Risks: Hurricanes can exacerbate existing health issues and create new ones. Flooding can lead to waterborne diseases, while power outages can disrupt access to medical care and medications. The mental health impact of surviving a hurricane and dealing with its aftermath can also be profound.
  4. Environmental Damage: Hurricanes can cause significant environmental damage, including oil spills, chemical leaks, and destruction of natural habitats. This not only affects the local ecosystem but also the livelihoods of those who depend on it.

Highlighting the Plight of Marginalized Communities

The Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management’s (I-DIEM) documentary MUTED: Climate Marginalization in America, was produced to shed light on how disasters disproportionately impact marginalized communities. It highlights the vulnerabilities faced by communities of color and low-income populations, who often have less access to resources and support during and after disasters.

The documentary emphasizes that these communities are not only more exposed to the physical dangers of hurricanes but also face systemic barriers that hinder their recovery. This includes lack of access to emergency services, inadequate housing, and insufficient financial resources to rebuild. “As we approach what is forecasted to be potentially one of the most severe Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, I am especially concerned about the impact on historically marginalized populations,” said Chauncia Willis, I-DIEM CEO and Co-Founder.

Impacts on Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities are particularly at risk during an active hurricane season. The Fifth National Climate Assessment Report released last November, provides a comprehensive look at how climate change threatens Indigenous peoples, exacerbating food insecurity, health risks, and economic challenges.

Livelihoods and Economies: Indigenous communities often rely on subsistence systems that are highly sensitive to environmental changes. Hurricanes can disrupt planting, harvesting, and fishing activities, leading to significant economic losses and food shortages.

Health Risks and Cultural Impact: The health and well-being of Indigenous peoples are closely tied to their environment. Hurricanes can contaminate water sources and reduce access to nutritious food, increasing health risks. The destruction of culturally significant sites and the need for relocation due to severe weather events further threaten the cultural heritage and social fabric of these communities.

Infrastructure and Relocation: Many Indigenous communities face inadequate infrastructure to withstand hurricanes. Rising sea levels and increased flooding may force some communities to relocate, a process fraught with challenges and insufficient funding. This threatens not only their homes but also their cultural continuity and economic stability.

Call to Action

Addressing the increased risks of a historic hurricane season requires comprehensive and equitable disaster preparedness and response strategies. This includes:

  • Strengthening infrastructure and housing in vulnerable communities.
  • Ensuring equitable access to emergency services and financial assistance.
  • Supporting Indigenous knowledge and leadership in climate resilience efforts.
  • Enhancing partnerships between scientific, governmental, and Indigenous entities to develop and implement effective climate action plans.

As we enter what may be a record-breaking hurricane season, it is crucial to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations. By doing so, we can build resilience and ensure that all communities have the support they need to weather the storms ahead.

For more insights on the impact of climate change on marginalized communities, including Indigenous peoples, and the urgent need for action, visit the documentary MUTED: Climate Marginalization in America by I-DIEM.

About the Author: Greg Padgett is a previously certified Broadcast Meteorologist with the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. He covered numerous hurricanes during a 15-year broadcasting career followed by a 15-year career as a FEMA external affairs and disaster resilience consultant. Mr. Padgett has been a member of the National Hurricane Conference’s Steering Committee since 2014. In his role as Director of External Affairs for I-DIEM, Mr. Padgett supports engagement with NOAA, the National Weather Service, and the National Hurricane Center.

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