Disasters like drought can be the most important driver of poverty in many parts of the world, according to a new report.
The report, published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), found that in drought-prone developing countries, a drought was the most important factor in keeping the area’s residents poor, surpassing ill health as cause for impoverishment. The authors analyzed data from rural Ethiopia and Andhra Pradesh in India to draw their conclusions on drought, and found that lack of rain kept already-impoverished people in the area from making a living, driving them further into poverty.
“Natural disasters spiral into human catastrophes when they entrench the poverty that already exists and pull more people down into poverty as their assets vanish, together with their means to generate an income,” the report explains.
ODI warns that if the planet continues on a “business as usual” approach to climate change and international aid, up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most disaster-exposed countries by 2030. Climate models, the report notes, predict that by 2030, drought incidence will increase in Central and South America, Southern Europe, Eastern and South-eastern Asia and southern Africa. Many of these areas, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern India, are also likely to have high poverty rates in 2030 — meaning drought will make poverty in those areas that much worse.
The report argues that at-risk countries need to do more to recognize and prepare for the threat of climate change, and also direct funds into efforts that will help their poorest citizens, instead of just spending funding on infrastructure and major cities. Rich countries need to better allocate their aid as well, sending money to poor countries who need to prepare for the threats of extreme weather — and not just waiting until after a disaster strikes to send aid.
“We’ve tended to provide much more financial support to a set of middle income countries, who can manage it better like the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia who made really great strides in protecting their populations,” Tom Mitchell, the ODI’s head of climate change and co-author of the report, told the BBC. “What we’ve not done is focus on the poorest countries, the ones most exposed to issues like drought, for example, sub Saharan Africa, we’ve almost missed it off.”
ODI researchers used the example of two hurricanes to illustrate the need for disaster preparation: Cyclone Nargis, which in 2008 killed 138,000 people in Myanmar, and Hurricane Gustav, which was comparable in severity to Nargis but killed only 153 in the Caribbean and U.S., because Myanmar lacked the disaster risk management of the Caribbean and U.S. If these countries adopt better disaster preparation policies, and if funding is better allocated to poor countries, the human toll of extreme weather can be lessened, according to the report.
The report backs the findings of multiple other studies on the link between extreme weather and poverty. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicted that climate change would hit poor countries the hardest, with the potential for higher temperatures to reduce the length of growing seasons in some regions in Africa by up to 20 percent. Oxfam has predicted that the number of people at risk for hunger could climb by 10 to 20 percent by 2050 due to climate change, with drought and floods jeopardizing many regions’ abilities to grow food on a consistent basis. Even in the U.S., poor and middle-class Americans are most at risk from extreme weather events — a report from the Center for American Progress found that most of the priciest extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012 harmed counties with household incomes below the U.S. median.