Thursday, June 11, 2020

Poverty and Pandemics Are a Toxic Mix

Covid-19 seems to be more common in poorer communities. Well, duh.

CBC has discovered that, in Montreal, race, housing and income correlate to the spread of Covid-19.
Montreal districts with higher numbers of Black people and more cramped housing have registered the most cases of COVID-19, according to an analysis by CBC News. 
The findings echo similar observations made in other major North American cities, where the novel coronavirus has disproportionately affected the poorest and most racially diverse neighbourhoods. 
"This says the conditions in which people are living leave them exposed in a very serious, excessive way to COVID-19," said Tiffany Callender, executive director of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association.
It's a global problem, one we can expect to see play out in the climate breakdown that's setting in, relatively unnoticed, in the poorest and most vulnerable nations around the world.

A couple of years ago when Los Angeles was enduring a fierce heatwave death rates spiked in some Latino neighbourhoods. One factor revealed by satellite images was that poorer areas had far fewer, sometimes no, shade trees. Rich folks, the people who had an abundance of trees and space, plenty of air conditioning, swimming pools and such somehow got through the heatwave much better. Quelle surprise.

I caught an item on BBC World Service this morning. It was an interview with a mother in one of India's largest cities. She spoke of how, before the Covid lockdown, her family, while far from wealthy, always had enough rice and fresh vegetables to keep her family well fed. Since the lockdown she and her children can't find food even if they could afford it. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.  And so they were just going to have to take their chances of exposure to the virus, knowing that their access to medical care would be very limited.

War, critical shortages of safe water, disease, heatwaves, famine - they're becoming the new normal in poor and vulnerable nations, home to mainly brown and black populations and the poorer you are the worse it's going to be.

This year unprecedented swarms of locusts have ravaged Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Here are a few headlines:  "Rolling emergency of locust swarms decimating Africa, Asia and the Middle East" (Guardian); "Giant new locust swarms hit East Africa" (Nat Geo, May); "New swarms about to form in East Africa" (UN FAO); "How China sent 100,000 ducks to fight 'worst locus attacks in decades'"  (Express). This year these locust swarms are coming in waves. These same areas are struggling to cope with Covid-19 and some have been hit with a resurgence of swine fever killing off critical livestock. The gruesome part is that the fever is often spread in undercooked pork by-products used as feed for other pigs.

This is not to make light or diminish the Covid experience of blacks in Montreal. It's that the world is entering a new phase and we're not prepared for it, even here in affluent Canada.

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