As a child, I grew up in a low-lying, poor part of my hometown Ufa, Russia. It was an area subject to toxic urban runoff, seasonal flooding, and a myriad of social issues. I often wondered why life was so much easier for people living in the upper part of town. There, it didn’t flood. Power outages were rare. Most people had indoor plumbing and did not have to deal with floating outhouses in the event of seasonal flooding. For families in our neighbourhood, moving to the upper part of town was largely out of reach. Back then, I didn’t know the words to describe the structural inequity due to race, class, and gender. I didn’t fully understand the limited upward mobility or the vicious cycles of poverty and vulnerability that locked my neighbours out of a brighter, alternative future. I was lucky. I studied very hard. Amazing scholarships set me on a path to learn about the growing profession of emergency management. I moved to Canada. My parents, however, still live where I grew up, faced with the same issues that have only become more acute with the growing inequity gap.
In this carefully curated issue, we bring you some food for thought to challenge your understanding of inequity in your work. Building on the foundations of emergency management, we bring in lenses from public health, architecture and design, health care systems, decolonization and Indigenous ways of knowing. Through this variety of perspectives, we aim to answer the question, why does inequity matter?
Inequity has high costs for society. In Canada, the 2017 Canadian At Home/Chez Soi study found that the average annual cost of helping those struggling with homelessness and mental illness in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, and Moncton (excluding medications) was $53,144 per person. Yet, the range of these costs varied from just over $15,000 to a staggering $340,000 per person. Investing in the housing-first model and addressing the underlying health and socio-economic circumstances of those transitioning from homelessness can significantly reduce these costs. Savings can be from $22,257 for high-need users to $14,177 per year for those with more moderate needs. With at least 235,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness in a given year, prevention could save a lot of money. More importantly, it could save lives.
Inequity kills. In the United Kingdom, for example, a recent study of nearly 2.5M premature deaths showed 35.6% of these deaths were attributable to socioeconomic inequality with the most unequal causes of death being due to tuberculosis, opioid use, HIV, psychoactive drugs use, viral hepatitis, and obesity. There’s more. Inequity is also a design issue. In a hotter and more volatile world, even shade becomes an index of inequality, a requirement for public health, and a mandate for urban planners and designers.
Inequity undermines governance. A recent academic study showed that economic inequality enhances the perception that society is breaking down. This, in turn, creates cravings for a strong leader who will restore order (even if that happens at the expense of democratic values). In recent years, we have witnessed how changes in prices of basic necessities like food, fuel, and transport sparked upheavals that led Chile and Ecuador to declare states of emergency. A year ago in France, the so-called yellow-vest movement began and led to a 10-billion-euro aid package for the poorest, changed laws and police tactics, cost the French economy billions, and forced the president to layout a series of reforms to tackle social inequity. In Canada, an Ipsos survey conducted for the insolvency firm MNP Ltd. shows 46% of the surveyed Canadians are $200 or less away from financial insolvency at month-end. An emergency preparedness kit becomes a bit of luxury when the margin of safety is so small.
Inequity is an intergenerational social justice issue. As of December 2019, 1,261 jurisdictions around the world, home to 798 million citizens in 25 countries, have declared a climate emergency. Climate change, in turn, will deepen inequity between those who can adapt and others that carry a heavier burden of poverty, hunger, and disease. Across Canada, First Nations communities are declaring states of emergency over suicide epidemics, unsafe drinking water, and drug crises. Colonialism and inequity lie at the heart of all of these issues.
Inequity creates fault lines in society. It is a tinder-dry social-conflict context waiting for a spark. Given that these metaphors are becoming more familiar for emergency managers, our profession is being increasingly forced to ask how we can rise as a profession to address this challenge? We hope this issue will deepen your understanding of the multiple dimensions of inequity and their far-reaching consequences for our field of practice. By focusing on solutions, we aim to leave you inspired to address inequity in your work.
In our Feature section, read about how adopting a health equity lens is essential for creating a more sustainable approach to disaster management, in Canada and beyond. Through this piece, practical tools are introduced to ensure well-intended policies are equity-informed through the four phases of emergency management.
In our Research section, learn about a decision-making framework that can help balance difficult trade-offs when formulating disaster risk reduction policies. Read about a hybrid-design framework that integrates infrastructure, landscape, and social practices for Greenland’s future in the face of accelerated climate change.
In our Practice section, read about an innovative methodology, a Canadian first, in post-disaster building assessments. In this issue, we also highlight a methodology for measuring emergency management performance using an accessible step-by-step process for initiating strategic change with measurable outcomes. Read an article on re-defining emergency management core competencies and learn the types of leadership best equipped to navigate the evolving landscape of emergency management.
We also turn to the past to find ways to inform our future. Learn about ways for creating space for Indigenous knowledge in the Rangitāiki Plains of Aotearoa New Zealand based on a historical analysis from the 1890s until 2017. Read a letter from Lake Manitoba written during the widespread power outages that reminds us about the importance of Indigenous Knowledge for fostering values of self-sufficiency, survival, and sustainability.
As the Editor for HazNet, I have the great privilege of working with thought leaders around the world to report on global best-practices and on the most recent research to bring timely and timeless content to our readers. In addition to our contributors, I want to thank our stellar HazNet team for their dedicated behind-the-scenes work: Nicole Spence, Carime Quezada, Ivan Chow, and Shaun Koopman and many other volunteers who make HazNet possible.
For the past 10 years, HazNet has been telling Canada’s story of disaster resilience. Thank you for being a part of it. We look forward to shaping this evolving story with you.