Recognizing Inequalities in Emergency Response

Social inequality creates a gap between the rich and poor bringing about injustice and unfairness. Social inequality does not seem to be reducing nor will it in the near future.

A disaster opens up the extent of the disparity while intensifying it and making the vulnerable more affected. The same case applies to Emergency Response and Risk Management; the vulnerable are usually not a priority.

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Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19)

It was first reported in December 2019 from Wuhan-China and quickly grew into a global pandemic. It is a respiratory disease transmitted from mucous or saliva droplets from an infected person in close contact thereby marking the transmission rate as high. Over 200 countries worldwide are affected and the mortality rate witnessed in thousands. It is a new virus whose cure is still unknown.

In light of COVID-19, the disparity between countries has been brought to light more so within a country. One of the major preventive measures is to stay indoors; businesses have shut down, service sectors closed, transportation ground to a halt, and the human workforce ceased to name a few. These have driven economies to take a hit.

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Once the pandemic has been overcome, rebuilding and restructuring of economies from human and property loss experienced and incurred should be guided by what the pandemic has shone across, the social inequality. A country cannot fully recover economically if social inequality has not been looked into and addressed.

Populations Most Affected By Social Inequalities

In any given war-like circumstance, women and children are disadvantaged at a higher percentage despite not being at the forefront of an active on-going incident.  They form the largest percentage of ‘collateral damage’. Women in rural or informal sectors are likely to face more negative outcomes due to lack of empowerment or low education.

Low-income earners face social injustice in various ways, the most common being healthcare. Privatization of healthcare and the practice of insurance card preference by healthcare facilities has locked out a large number of low-income earners because the cost is too high for them. Insurance is ironically a luxury they cannot afford or keep up with the hefty premiums.

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The community consisting of the minority groups and people of color are often racially discriminated. Most low-income earners are the stated community living in Government housing projects relying on Government welfare. This is a disadvantage as they do not have access to online information regarding emergency response and filling out the number of forms to receive care.

People living with a disability are usually vulnerable without the added stress of hard economic times especially when they fully rely on family members or hired help for their day to day needs. The hardest hit is the population living in informal sectors or in low-income households because they become susceptible to all kinds of abuse.

Different Forms Of Social Inequalities

When the benefits of economic growth are not equally distributed, social inequality crops up and widens the gap of ‘the haves and the have-nots.’ A disaster heightens the gap. The longer COVID-19 rages on, the more long-term effects shall be felt by the people under the poverty line.

  • Gender Inequality

Despite women being the highest number of caregivers during this pandemic, the percentage of inequality is stacked against them. Threatened job security has left women more exposed to exploitation and sex trafficking in the pretence of a job connection.

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There is a worldwide rise in domestic and sexual violence cases against women and girls resulting from seclusion in quarantine. Both from civil partners and strangers. Several deaths have been reported due to extensive injuries from the attacks.

Women deal with inequality on a day to day basis particularly in the rural setting where they also face financial inequality to a greater extent than urban women. A woman in a low-income setting will not spend money on her own health but rather buy food for the family.

  • Inequality In Emergency Response

Emergency response is a human right that social inequity hampers with. For low-income earners or people in rural set-ups, receiving first response is not a common occurrence especially where there is low or lack of infrastructure. A response team cannot get to the designated location without an access road.

Another factor working against the vulnerable is a lack of working communication system to reach out to the responders for a rapid response. This lack of communication also works against the community whenever disaster warning is broadcasted but not received. Reaching out to the public entities such as the police is not in their reach.

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The well-off population receives assistance faster than other community members when they can clearly fund their personal evacuation or medical expenses. This disparity happens regularly. The vulnerable should be awarded the first precedence as they do not have any other financial backing.

  • Financial Inequality

Financial inequality covers income and wealth disparity. Low-income inequality within a country presents the affected with a number of issues ranging from under-nourishment from only eating staple food to a higher risk of maternal mortality due to lack of affordable health care.

A large number of the community also has low access to electricity or treated tap water. This, in turn, presents a list of water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera and due to lack of healthcare, mortality rate is noted to be on an increase. The school completion rate is rather lower than the presentation from other communities.

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Wealth disparity is showcased through a link in opportunity inequality, appreciating assets such as land, health and education, and the mass of public service and policies necessary to increase the return of said assets. It is also linked to urban areas where the wealthy have greater access to these assets.

Poverty And Disaster Response

The impact of COVID-19 is, directly and indirectly, felt across the country and world. Countries and communities affected by poverty experience the effects on a much personal level with slim to no chance of financial recovery leading to greater inequality.

Creating social protection measures ensures critical access to health care and social assistance program for the affected to gradually resume life from health and economic crisis.

Low-income communities lack proper sanitation, health services and technological services. Any form of enforced risk management shows it’s next to impossible for them to adhere to containment measures as the economic consequences due to quarantine  are dire.

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Strategies To Reduce Inequalities

  • Global public health plan and emergency response should be laid out while economic rescue plans pay for the rise in demand of public health. 
  • More public health promotion offering free healthcare while private facilities work with the public facilities to increase care capacity.
  • Global vaccine and treatment to be made available even to the underprivileged.
  • Pre-plan for disasters and a proper risk reduction management plan rolled out across institutions with ease of access to resources and policies.
  • Access in availability of actionable data information in relation to a looming disaster made in advance to communities.
  • New, paid and protected health workers hired while motivating the current frontline staff.
  • Key players such as women group, public health, and public health organizations should work inclusively with other agencies in disseminating information on prevention and management.
  • The Government and political leaders should work together to protect the frontline health workers and the citizens at large while implementing immediate and longer positive impact.
  • Ensuring widespread affordable housing assistance and basic infrastructure for example electricity, tarmac roads, and safe tap water.
  • Setting up rebuilding programs and institutions to aid in the recovery of communities.
  • The community should be involved in the practices of disaster risk management and integration of policies regardless of age, race, disability, ethnicity, or economic status.
  • Addressing structural inequalities by allocating equal opportunities especially in basic services to ensure economic recovery.
  • Food security is dependent on informal, migrant, and seasonal workers’ ability to safely harvest produce. By equalizing this inequity, formal employment ensures decent working conditions and formalized pay.
  • Address gender inequality practices as pandemics always leave women at higher risks. Ensure their priorities and needs are mentioned and secured while providing empowerment and economic growth.
  • Provide the marginalized population, especially in urban slum areas, with free protective face masks and basic sanitation requirements like water and soap for hand washing amid COVID-19 as the most recommended preventative measure as social distancing is not feasible.

Disaster heavily impacts countries that host the highest number of poverty cases, mostly third world countries. Countries affected by political corruption in which public funds are diverted for personal gain renders the needy even more disadvantaged with a grim future on recovery. Proper leadership led by integrity is paramount in recuperating a crippling economy.

Figure 3-6 in reference to a 2019 UN Asia-Pacific Disaster Report shows how to break the link between disasters, poverty, and inequality.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) shall promote empowerment, inclusivity, and equality of the vulnerable group by building resilience and reducing the disaster risks by addressing the needs of marginalized and socially discriminated people. “No one is left behind.”

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