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More Than Just Disasters: How Natural Hazards Exacerbate Racial, Gender, and Wealth Inequalities

Wednesday, August 21, 2019 -
11:00am to 12:00pm PDT
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Why We’ve Stopped Saying ‘Natural Disaster’ and You Should Too

by Alan Kwok, Disaster Resilience Director, Northern California Grantmakers

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Philanthropy has responded to a range of extreme natural events over the past few years, from wildfires to earthquakes to floods to hurricanes and to heatwaves. In California, with virtually everything related to wildfires is on the rise – acres burned, cost of firefighting, and lives lost – philanthropy has played a vital role in supporting the response and recovery of impacted communities. More recently, a series of major earthquakes struck rural communities in Southern California. These earthquakes, the region’s biggest in over 20 years, remind us that we live on shaky grounds. Across the state and the country, we are experiencing more frequent and intense weather events due to climate change, with dire consequences for people and communities living on the frontline. 

Recent extreme natural events have exposed the vulnerability of marginalized communities – especially low-income communities and communities of color – in preparing for and responding to disasters. However, we have largely ignored the underlying mechanisms that contribute to racial, gender, and wealth inequality long after a disaster.

This webinar will feature Junia Howell, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. She will discuss how racial, gender, and wealth inequalities get exacerbated overtime because of recurring and episodic natural hazards. Specifically, she will highlight various contributors to inequality along the lines of race, gender, and income, including government disaster aid programs, personal and household social resources, residential stability, and the nonprofit ecosystem. She will also share her perspectives about how philanthropy can advance just and equitable community resilience efforts.

Junia’s research was cited by national policymakers who have sought to reform our federal disaster aid programs. It also appeared in The AtlanticLos Angeles TimesChicago TribuneUSA TodayLatino Voices, and more. She was interviewed by NPR and The Big One, a public radio podcast based in Los Angeles


Junia Howell, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh 

Junia specializes in urban sociology and race and ethnicity. With the goal of inspiring urban policy interventions that can foster opportunities among all city residents, Junia’s research focuses on how a city’s structural conditions constrain their opportunities. Some of her research include:

  • “The Truly Advantaged: Examining the Effects of Privileged Places on Educational Attainment,” The Sociological Quarterly (2019).
  • “As Disaster Costs Rise, So Does Inequality,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World (2019).
  • “Disasters, Local Organizations and Poverty in the United States, 1998 to 2015,” Population and Environment (2018).

Her research has appeared in local, national, and international publications and media outlets. She received her PhD at Rice University.

Alan Kwok, Director of Disaster Resilience, Northern California Grantmakers 

Alan seeks to strengthen and galvanize the philanthropy sector in California around investments in community-based disaster resilience and climate change. He serves as the point person around these issues for Philanthropy California, an alliance of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego Grantmakers. He brings to his role a wealth of experiences in community health, youth and workforce development, and disaster management. He managed a FEMA award-winning community resilience initiative in the Bay Area American Red Cross and continues to research on community disaster resilience. He earned his PhD in emergency management at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR) at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand. His research is published in World Bank and government publications, as well as in peer-reviewed journals.

Target Audience

This event is open to members and nonmembers. 






For more information, please contact Alan Kwok at