Disaster relief: Why the poor need higher priority

Research has shown that cities and towns with a high poverty rate are often the slowest to recover from disaster because they receive the least amount of federal aid. Low-income groups and communities of color are disproportionately affected, often lacking insurance, access to credit, and the resources to apply for what little aid is available. That’s why scholars who study disaster recovery are advocating for better federal policies—and greater funding—to help the most vulnerable communities and citizens prepare and rebound from hurricanes, fires, floods, and other catastrophes.

A house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina flooding in New Orleans.

“There’s an assumption that federal disaster aid will make these people whole, but it actually doesn’t. It’s difficult to access, insufficient, and often delayed, so we have a real challenge in helping these families post-disaster,” says Carolyn Kousky, executive director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

In an online policy collaboration, the Risk Center and The Urban Institute brought together experts who agreed on several recommendations to prioritize the poor in disaster recovery.

The experts agree that more careful preparation, easier applications, and more money are key to lifting the most fragile populations during a disaster.

“We need to be doing a lot more pre-disaster to really strengthen our buildings, move out of harm’s way, and invest in climate resilience activities so that we don’t suffer so much damage when the fire starts or the hurricane makes landfall,” Kousky says.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.