Disaster relief system is broken – community activists gear up for wildfires and hurricanes ahead


Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

June 1 marks the start of wildfire and hurricane season. Community activists from Florida to New Jersey, California to Louisiana and Texas, under the banner of Organizing Resilience, for the first time, are working together to pressure elected leaders to address a failed disaster relief system and the PTSD, fear and economic impact that failure has had on their communities. EMS briefing on June 3  discussed what they are planning for the current season and what they need government at all levels to do.

Ashley Shelton, Founder, President, and CEO of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (Louisiana) said her state has experienced the double whammy of the coronavirus and hurricanes last year. Her Coalition for Equality and Justice works to provide cash assistance to affected families to help them pay rent, utilities, food and more. In addition, the group is actively pushing for legislation to make insurance companies responsible for paying the losses of victims. Ashley Shelton also pointed out that after Hurricane Ida last year, they found that many insurance regulations were unreasonable, such as some insurance terms were unclear, and some did not cover wind damage.

MacKenzie Marcelin, Climate Justice Manager, Florida Rising spoke about how climate warming affects housing shortages and how to improve housing equity. He said natural disasters were becoming more frequent and communities needed to be better prepared. At the same time, the local legislature is urged to standardize the landlord’s rental agreement and ensure the equality of housing rights.

Chrishelle Palay, Executive Director of the HOME Coalition in Houston explained the challenges of local hurricane disaster relief. She said that since Hurricane Harvey hit the area five years ago, there are still people whose homes have not been repaired. Especially in minority communities, some families still live under leaky homes. Last winter, the local area also experienced snowstorms, which brought unprecedented icy weather to local residents. Many Texans were left traumatized after last year’s disasters, and with this year’s hurricane season approaching, they’re even more worried.

Daysi Bedolla Sotelo, Senior Strategist for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (California) said PCUN helps local farmers establish information channels, communicate with them in the fields, and provide assistance. Other challenges include that some residents do not have cell phones, cannot receive information, and undocumented immigrants cannot access government assistance.

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