When disaster strikes, disabled people and low-income communities are hit the hardest and face higher mortality rates. They also take longer to recover. Germán Parodi and Shaylin Sluzalis were protesting in Washington, D.C., for disability rights as they found out Hurricane Maria was on its way to Puerto Rico in 2017. Now the co-directors of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, they were deployed as part of a disabled first responder team. Parodi, who was born and raised on the island, lives with a mobility disability, while Sluzalis lives with an invisible disability. “Being culturally aware of the dynamics of the island … and knowing how to interact with people with different types of disabilities opened doors that we were being told wouldn’t open in some neighborhoods,” says Parodi.
In the aftermath of last week’s floods, my home state of Vermont faces a daunting path to recovery. Flooding damaged homes and businesses. Roads and bridges washed out, and communities have been cut off from the rest of the state. Vermont has walked this path before, after Tropical Storm Irene, and we are not alone in facing a recovery now. As the climate crisis deepens, more places will be spending more time in recovery mode. Recovery isn’t just a difficult task. It’s also one with lasting consequences. Rebuilt infrastructure will — hopefully — stand for decades to come. Over its lifetime, it will influence climate resilience, carbon emissions, health, well-being and social equity.