In the wake of such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake that devastated Haiti and the BP oil spill earlier this year, here’s some encouraging news.
“There’s no shortage of good ideas,” architect Steven Lewis, president of the National Association of Minority Architects, said during Monday's session on "Dialogue on Haiti and the U.S. Gulf Coast: Collaborating to Protect Vulnerable Communities."
He showed slides of “soft houses” that can be built quickly and offer far superior protection than tents in a post-disaster situation. Also, there's a portable device that can sanitize drinking water in two to four hours relying only on the rays of the sun, and a single-family home can be powered by a Bloom Box using biofuel.
We’ve heard this many times, but it still holds true — what will work in Haiti and New Orleans and other devastated communities are the same things that have led to public health successes for centuries: partnerships with people who live in those communities.
For example, APHA Executive Board member Andrea Kidd-Taylor traveled to Haiti in August to help start a gardening project at an orphanage as a way to encourage locals to become more self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Tilling the soil alongside children led to conversations about health care as well as the outreach work needed to help 18-year-olds — who are too old for school but lack marketable skills — find job training. She’s also one of many trying to help as the country now struggles with a cholera outbreak.
“You still have rubble. You have trash everywhere,” said Kidd-Taylor, who hopes to go back in January with a group of Morgan State University faculty and students. “There’s just so much that needs to be done.”
And in New Orleans, hometown of Beverly Lewis, the rebuilding effort still tends to favor richer white neighborhoods over poorer black areas. As founder and head of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, she helps lead everything from studies that show where recovery money is being spent to training programs for volunteers.
What does she want from the public health community?
“I would like to see more responsible research done by public health researchers and schools,” she said, urging grant seekers to work closely with communities on emerging health threats. “Where I live, because there’s such a close relationship between money and the petro-chemical industry, a lot of times we don’t get the research we need.”
Above, a resident of New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward visits what's left of her home in October 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Andrea Booher, courtesy the Federal Emergency Management Agency