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Importance Of Social Capital To Disaster Management

1840 words - 7 pages

A heat wave is generally considered to be an extended period of excessively hot weather. Long exposure to high temperature can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death (Kilbourne, 1997). In July 1995, a strong heat wave hit Chicago, causing more than 500 deaths (Klinenberg 2003). The purpose of this paper is to investigate the correlation between ethnic minority groups and the heat wave, specifically focusing on African-Americans and Latinos. From the analysis the paper will argue that it is more than the natural disaster itself created the conditions that have made such wide disparities in the mortality between African-Americans and Latinos. It will do so by first providing some background information on heat related death in the ethnic groups follow by evidences that place-specific social ecology and its effects on social practices account for much of the disparity in the heat wave morality rate for different ethnicity groups. It will become clear that the heat wave deaths represent what that Farmer (1999) refers to as ''biological reflections of social fault lines'' for which we and not nature are responsible for the many of the death occur during a disaster. It is the lack resources available to individuals and groups through their social connections to their communities, which is also known as social capital that contributed to the negative outcome (Kawachi & Berkman 2000).

Klinenberg (2003) pointed out that during the Chicago heat wave African-Americans had the highest proportional death rate of any racial groups. In contrast, Latinos living in Chicago, whose overall level of poverty placed them at a higher risk of fatality, experienced a surprisingly low death rate. Latinos in Chicago constituted at least 23 percent of the city's population in 1995; however they represented only 2 percent of the total heat wave deaths. This phenomenal raises the question of why Latinos fared so much better than African-Americans. Whitman et al (1997) in their studies attempted to solve this question but failed to establish any relationships between the weather and mortality that would explain what happened in Chicago. At the same time two other popular cultural arguments attempts to explain the variance in the death rate, first is that Latinos are acculturated to the heat and have strategies for coping with it because many have recently lived in hot Latin American climates. The second cultural explanation is that Latinos benefits from strong multigenerational and extended family ties that help facilitate support during the heat wave. However, none of these arguments provide a persuasive account of the differences in heat wave mortality. Not only is there no credible scientific evidence that Latinos have generic traits that allow them to withstand the heat. Research have shown native-born Mexican-American elderly are significantly more like to live away from and out of regular contract with their children and...

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