“At the whim of nature”

Environmental disasters affect poor countries in particular, with disproportionate numbers of deaths, displacements and damage to infrastructure. Furthermore, adapting to the negative impacts of global climate change – that could include declining harvests, spread of disease and decreasing water supplies – will be more costly for low-income countries. By Ma. Sn.

The poor suffer most from environmental disasters and are more vulnerable to fluctuating climate because:

  • they live in areas that are at high risk to natural disasters and extreme weather ;
  • they live in poorly built, shelter that is easily damaged in the event of a disaster;
  • they live in areas with few or no early warning programmes;
  • they have few assets and a weak social safety net to help them cope with disasters and variable weather.

From 1990 to 1998, 97 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters were in developing countries (1). Hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides etc. caused unnecessarily high death tolls and damage in low-income countries. But poor people have also been especially vulnerable to less sudden, long-term environmental changes: millions have suffered from undernourishment or died of hunger during droughts and flooding.

There is growing evidence that degradation of the environment will cause further long-term climate change and extreme weather. Rich industrialized nations emit most of the carbon responsible for climate change, but low-income countries will suffer most from the impacts of climate change. Climate change could result in a decline of agricultural production in many tropical and subtropical areas that already face food deficits, and could displace millions of people, decrease water availability and allow for the greater spread of diseases such as Malaria. In India alone, climate change by 2020 may decrease wheat, maize and rice yields by five to ten percent (2).

To mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and decrease the likelihood of climate change, we need to improve urban planning, encourage afforestation and water conservation, enforce stricter building standards, strengthen social support programmes and develop long-term initiatives to combat climate change.

Ma. Sn.

1. World Development Report Indicators 2001, The World Bank, Washington DC, 2001.

2. DFID et al., Linking Poverty Reduction and Environmental Management: Policy Challenges and Opportunities, 2002.

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