Floods devastated the eastern part of Kentucky in July of this year. Just months before, tornadoes tore a path of destruction through towns in West Kentucky. A few states south of us, Jackson, Mississippi, saw heavy rains that caused flooding, overwhelming a water treatment plant and leaving a city of 150,000 without safe water. While the affected areas in Kentucky are rural, they share with urban Jackson years of underinvestment in infrastructure and a lack of adequate resources, making their populations—which are disproportionately impacted by storms and floods—that much more vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events and presenting huge challenges in recovering from these disasters.

Such weather events impact the health of individuals living in affected communities. Low-income individuals live with higher rates of chronic disease, are more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, have substandard housing, and often lack access to nutritious foods and adequate medical care. When disaster strikes, many are left displaced or homeless, without transportation and access to necessary physical and mental health services, exacerbating existing health problems. The precariousness of their situation affects their ability to cope with a disaster, leading to higher levels of post-traumatic stress and depression than experienced by those of higher socio-economic standing.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the focus is usually on returning a community to its previous state. For those who have endured economic, racial, and health inequities, such a focus is not good enough. The root causes of disparities must be addressed in the rebuilding effort to achieve true recovery, improve the lives of impacted people, and prevent similarly disastrous effects from occurring.

Philanthropy can play a crucial role in supporting underserved and marginalized communities in their rebuilding process. To do so, we must form strong partnerships with community leaders and local organizations, for only thus will we learn where needs are greatest in the evolving recovery effort and be able to develop culturally appropriate and sustainable solutions that align with communities’ distinct needs. Alongside that, successful philanthropy also requires a long-term commitment—continuing the work for months and often years to make a real and lasting difference.

Read the full article about building more equitable communities by Tiffany Benjamin at Nonprofit Quarterly.