The blueprint of disaster: COVID-19, the Flint water crisis, and unequal ecological impacts

This article was originally published here

Lancet Planet Health. 2021 May;5(5):e309-e315. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00076-0.


COVID-19 is unique in the scope of its effects on morbidity and mortality. However, the factors contributing to its disparate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic effects are part of an expansive and continuous history of oppressive social policy and marginalising geopolitics. This history is characterised by institutionally generated spatial inequalities forged through processes of residential segregation and neglectful urban planning. In the USA, aspects of COVID-19’s manifestation closely mirror elements of the build-up and response to the Flint crisis, Michigan’s racially and class-contoured water crisis that began in 2014, and to other prominent environmental injustice cases, such as the 1995 Chicago (IL, USA) heatwave that severely affected the city’s south and west sides, predominantly inhabited by Black people. Each case shares common macrosocial and spatial characteristics and is instructive in showing how civic trust suffers in the aftermath of public health disasters, becoming especially degenerative among historically and spatially marginalised populations. Offering a commentary on the sociogeographical dynamics that gave rise to these crises and this institutional distrust, we discuss how COVID-19 has both inherited and augmented patterns of spatial inequality. We conclude by outlining particular steps that can be taken to prevent and reduce spatial inequalities generated by COVID-19, and by discussing the preliminary steps to restore trust between historically disenfranchised communities and the public officials and institutions tasked with responding to COVID-19.

PMID:33964240 | DOI:10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00076-0