Can a Congressional Caucus Change the Game on Disaster Resilience?
In a major step forward for disaster recovery and resilience in the United States, Representatives Bennie G. Thompson, Earl Blumenauer, Dina Titus, and Sheila Jackson Lee have helped to form the Disaster Equity and Building Resilience Caucus. The goal of this caucus is to specifically address issues of equity and resilience in disaster response and recovery efforts, promoting policies that ensure vulnerable communities are not disproportionately impacted by disasters.
A Focus on Equitable Recovery and Resilience
The Disaster Equity and Building Resilience caucus wants to ensure that the recovery and resilience-building initiatives adopted by the government take into account the unique needs of low-income communities and communities of color. By incorporating equity considerations into disaster preparedness and response strategies, the caucus hopes to close the existing gap in support for vulnerable communities in the wake of disasters.
One of the primary goals of the caucus is to spark discussions and collaborations between lawmakers and stakeholders on reducing barriers to recovery and addressing the inherent inequalities in the current disaster management system. In a statement, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) said:
“Whether you receive assistance and can properly recover after a disaster shouldn’t depend on your zip code or background. For decades, we have seen low-income communities and communities of color left behind after a disaster strikes. That is not fair or equitable.”
Bipartisanship and Local Opportunities
While the current caucus members are Democrats, the lack of bipartisan participation in disaster equity and recovery is a concerning aspect. Regardless of political affiliations, disaster resilience should be a priority for everyone, as disasters do not discriminate between lines on a map.
Disaster response and recovery are inherently localized processes. While the Caucus is an important step forward, it is clear that local collaboration through boots on the ground and statewide initiatives is essential to addressing the inequities of disaster recovery head-on.
Patrice Willoughby (https://www.naacp.org/leader/patrice-willoughby/), NAACP Senior Vice President for Global Policy and Impact, highlighted the necessity of bipartisan action to address disaster recovery: “Solutions to mitigate disaster risk must begin with a discussion of inequality. Under-resourced communities with substandard or degraded infrastructure are less resilient and less able to recover from natural disasters and climate events… Responding to these challenges will require a commitment to solutions that address systemic inequity.”
Considering that, our communal emergency management focus should be on empowering local leaders and communities to work together in bridging the disaster recovery gap, beyond party politics.
Disaster recovery is political and yet, the nature of the disaster (i.e. how it impacts and who it impacts) is often determined by decades-old (and sometimes centuries-old) political decisions that led to inequity, fear, disbelief, and NIMBY-like attitudes.
While one Caucus formation cannot alleviate all equity concerns, it is a step in the right direction.
A Bold Step Forward
The formation of the Disaster Equity and Building Resilience Caucus presents an incredible opportunity for the United States to overhaul its approach to disaster recovery, striving to ensure equitable support for all communities. While the road ahead may be long, this initiative marks a crucial step toward realizing disaster assistance equity.
As the caucus continues its essential work, everyone must do their part by staying informed about disaster resilience and equity issues and engaging with their local representatives to push for policies that address these inequities. Together, we can change the face of disaster recovery across the United States and build resilient, equitable communities ready to face whatever challenges nature throws our way.