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Questions Choose one (1) of the following:

1. Compare and contrast identity formation among Canada’s First Nations and New Zealand’s Maori.

2. Environmental hazards are often located near disadvantaged social groups. Discuss.

3. Discuss when the Women’s Liberation or Gay Liberation or the North American Civil Rights Movement did and did not conform to the definition of a ‘new social movement’.
4. Compare and contrast the social roles of the Indian Hijras and the North American Two Spirit People.

5. Macionis and Plummer (2012) suggest that ‘black feminism’ critiques the “white and middle-class women’s movement” (p. 410). Discuss.

6. Critically assess the tensions between local and global sexual identities in non-western countries.

Environmental Hazards and Vulnerability among Low-Income Groups

While environmentalism is a term that is often used to describe a concern that is shared only by middle class people, it is the disadvantaged groups, who bear the greatest brunt of environmental problems (Alexander, 2017). People who belong to low income groups are more than likely to be residing near polluting factories or roads and often have to put up with poor quality housing as well as amenities. Poor people also end up spending disproportionate sums of money on environmental goods like water, energy and food. As argued by Bergstrand et al. (2015), environmental improvements can end up having a positive impact on the quality of life for people belonging to disadvantaged sections of society. However, policies that are drawn up and implemented without considering economic and social factors can end up exacerbating their existing hardships. For instance, an increase in fuel or energy prices can have a disproportionate effect on the poor; conflicts can arise between the need for affordably priced housing and rural conservation as well as the desire to combat industrial pollution while maintaining employment at the same time (Tanner et al., 2015). This essay argues that poor or vulnerable groups or groups that are disadvantaged are impacted the most by environmental issues and that too in such a negative way. The essay concludes by recommending a number of measures that maybe put in place to improve the plight of the poor people who are at the receiving end of environmental disasters and issues. 

Understanding the Co-relation between Susceptibility and Vulnerability to Environmental Disasters for Low Income Groups 

In the view of Dominelli (2014), considerable variation is seen to exist among low-income groups when it comes to the severity and range of environmental hazards. An environmental hazard like a pollutant, a pathogen or any physical hazard is not necessarily likes to harm anyone and the characteristic features of household, social group or individuals who are exposed to this hazard have an important role to play when it comes to the type of impact that it has. Certain households or people tend to be more vulnerable to environmental problems and hazards than others. For Abramson et al (2015), this is largely due to the fact that they are unable to avoid such hazards, and more affected by such hazards than others, and not able to cope too successfully with these environmental hazards due to injury, illness or even premature death that is caused by the hazard. Such households or individuals can be regarded as vulnerable people or households. However, for Rufat et al. (2015), to provide for a more thorough understanding, a distinction needs to be made between vulnerability, that is, where it is cultural, social or economic conditions that increase likelihood of risk and susceptibility, where risk is increased due to a number of endogenous factors like the nutritional status of a person, genetic makeup and immune system status. Some of the factors that influence the susceptibility of individuals or groups to environmental hazards as argued by Bennett et al. (2015), are as follows

  • Exposure to chemicals – health status and age at the time of being exposed, certain groups such as asthmatics as well as elderly people who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases become especially susceptible to specific types of air pollutants
  • Physical hazards – In overcrowded and low quality housing, the rate of physical accidents due to poor physical strength and limited mobility is very high.
  • Biological Pathogens – malnourished and HIV positive individuals with weak immune systems become easily vulnerable to environmental hazards. Pregnant women are particularly at risk if they are under nourished, and are living in conditions where the risk of contracting parasitic and infectious diseases is at an all time high.

Factors that Influence Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards

Vulnerability to environmental issues and problems is also something that is greatly influenced on the social level by factors such as gender, basic services, household assets, income and quality of housing. The most vulnerable groups as identified by Prochaska et al. (2014), therefore are:

  1. Groups that face discrimination – especially when it comes to obtaining basic services, adequate housing, and adequate income in many different societies, especially ethnic groups or caste that are faced with discrimination when it comes to all of these.
  2. Income earners in hazardous work conditions – people who work in factories tend to be easily exposed to hazardous machinery and dangerous chemicals. People who make a living out of sorting as well as picking wastes face many hazards as well, especially those who work at large sized waste dumps, that is, areas where commercial and industrial wastes are mixed often with residential wastes, that includes plenty of toxic waste too.
  3. People who perform dangerous tasks in a household setup – This refers to people who are made to carry out dangerous duties in a domestic setting, such as the disposal of large quantities of human excreta; where the indoor air pollution levels are at an all time high. It also refers to situations where people remain cooped up within the home for long hours during the day because they have been confined to performing household tasks only.
  4. Households/Individuals living in homes of poor quality, and where the neighborhoods lack adequate provision for drainage, garbage removal, sanitation and water – like the lack of safe outdoor and indoor play areas and living environments. The risk of exposure to accidental fire is something that is greatly increased for people who reside in shacks that are made of materials, which are inflammable like cardboard and wood. This is especially the case for disadvantaged groups of people living in homes that use portable stoves or open fire for heating and cooking and where candles or kerosene lamps are used in the place of electricity, for lighting. Such vulnerabilities can extend to urban populations in several cities.

According to Wickes et al. (2015), poor women tend to be far more vulnerable than poor men when it comes to being vulnerable to environmental problems. This is primarily because of gender relations, or the economic and social roles that women have been assigned by economic, political and social structures. In many global societies, women face a great deal of discrimination in labour markets especially when it comes to obtaining basic services, land, housing as well as credit (Wickes et al, 2015). 

Vulnerability to disasters 

As argued by Kemp et al. (2015), in many cities of the world, low-income groups tend to be concentrated very heavily in parts of the cities that are most susceptible to environmental risks and disasters such as steep slopes, flood plains, sites, that are exposed to the risk of earthquakes and sites that are located around very heavy industries. Hazardous sites indeed tend to suit the low income groups very well as these are hazardous in nature and people belonging to high income groups avoid building homes and establishments over here. Also, as stated by Collins et al (2016), low-income groups do not possess the financial capital that is necessary to procure or renting homes that are designed to limit or avoid damage should a disaster ever occur. Low-income neighborhoods do not have any provision for any kind of protective infrastructure and low-income groups, also do not have the resources that need to be put in place when environmental disasters destroy or damage their housing (Collins et al., 2016). 

The factors that are capable of reducing the vulnerability of disadvantaged groups in society to environmental problems as argued by Aldrich and Meyer (2015), are

  • Good nutritional standards, good quality neighborhoods and homes that reduce the exposure to physical hazards, chemicals and biological pathogens, and which also reduce vulnerability to any kind of natural disaster.
  • Children’s needs need to be provided for at every stage such as good quality education, and play facilities.
  • Traffic management standards need to be adequate.
  • The extent of community, private and public provisions for the prevention of injuries and disease is necessary, such as the provision of good quality child-birth services and provision for immunization.
  • Good occupational health standards and safety standards
  • Suitable control of environmental issues like air pollution
  • Emergency response to acute diseases or accidental injuries 


Thus, it is evident more than ever, that environmental disasters occur primarily near the areas where disadvantaged groups reside, and that it is such groups that are impacted negatively the most by such disasters. Adequate housing and infrastructure in addition to the provision of basic services associated with the prevention and control of environmental problems need to be in place if disadvantaged groups are to be suitably protected when exposed to environmental hazards. 


Abramson, D. M., Grattan, L. M., Mayer, B., Colten, C. E., Arosemena, F. A., Bedimo-Rung, A., & Lichtveld, M. (2015). The resilience activation framework: a conceptual model of how access to social resources promotes adaptation and rapid recovery in post-disaster settings. The journal of behavioral health services & research, 42(1), 42

Aldrich, D. P., & Meyer, M. A. (2015). Social capital and community resilience. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(2), 254-269.

 Bennett, N. J., Blythe, J., Tyler, S., & Ban, N. C. (2016). Communities and change in the anthropocene: understanding social-ecological vulnerability and planning adaptations to multiple interacting exposures. Regional Environmental Change, 16(4), 907-926.

Collins, M. B., Munoz, I., & JaJa, J. (2016). Linking ‘toxic outliers’ to environmental justice communities. Environmental Research Letters, 11(1), 015004.

Dominelli, L. (2014). Promoting environmental justice through green social work practice: A key challenge for practitioners and educators. International Social Work, 57(4), 338-345.

Kemp, S. P., & Palinkas, L. A. (2015). Strengthening the social response to the human impacts of environmental change. Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative, 3-32.

Prochaska, J. D., Nolen, A. B., Kelley, H., Sexton, K., Linder, S. H., & Sullivan, J. (2014). Social determinants of health in environmental justice communities: Examining cumulative risk in terms of environmental exposures and social determinants of health. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal, 20(4), 980-994.

 Rufat, S., Tate, E., Burton, C. G., & Maroof, A. S. (2015). Social vulnerability to floods: Review of case studies and implications for measurement. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 14, 470-486.-57.

Tanner, T., Lewis, D., Wrathall, D., Bronen, R., Cradock-Henry, N., Huq, S., ... & Alaniz, R. (2015). Livelihood resilience in the face of climate change. Nature Climate Change, 5(1), 23.

Wickes, R., Zahnow, R., Taylor, M., & Piquero, A. R. (2015). Neighborhood structure, social capital, and community resilience: longitudinal evidence from the 2011 Brisbane flood disaster. Social Science Quarterly, 96(2), 330-353.

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