Hurricane Ida made landfall in the southern US state of Louisiana last week, leaving thousands of people displaced and millions without power or access to other resources. Among those most at risk during the storm and in its aftermath have been people with disabilities and older people.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has found that people with disabilities and older people are often among those most adversely affected in emergencies, and at the same time are among those least likely to have access to emergency support.
“I couldn’t get out of the apartment,” one woman in Louisiana told Human Rights Watch. “I was so scared, trapped with water rushing in.” She wears leg braces and uses crutches to walk. When the flooding began, she called the police. But they were unable to get to her because of the severity of the storm. Eventually, a friend helped her get to a hospital. “I have nothing,” she said, “not even dry clothes.”
Her story is unfortunately not unique. Similar cases were reported in New York. And for three days after the storm hit, a hotline run by the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, a disability-led nonprofit focused on equal access to emergency services, received over 130 hurricane-related requests for assistance from people with disabilities in Louisiana. Requests included evacuation assistance and access to power to charge wheelchairs and hearing devices.
Older people are also at risk. In Independence, Louisiana, seven nursing home patients died after being evacuated to a warehouse along with 843 other older people from seven nursing homes. At least three of the deaths were storm-related.
Storms like Hurricane Ida and other extreme weather events are becoming more intense due to climate change. For example, research has shown that climate change contributed substantially to the intensity of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. The threat of predictable climate disasters will continue to intensify if governments don’t take action to mitigate climate change by drastically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions driving it.
But even if governments act swiftly, the consequences of climate change will continue to impact people globally, disproportionately affecting marginalized groups. To ensure the needs of at-risk populations, including people with disabilities and older people, are adequately addressed, governments should give these groups the opportunity to meaningfully participate in and lead on disaster risk management planning and climate-related decision making. With the Atlantic hurricane season yet to reach its peak, the timing could not be more urgent.