Extreme weather forces millions of people into poverty each year, and this will get worse unless climate change is more seriously addressed around the world.
In a study of 117 countries, researchers with the World Bank revealed how natural disasters, many of which are worsened by the effects of climate change, are disproportionately harming poor people, which they defined as those living on less than $1.90 per day. The World Bank criticized traditional methods for estimating the impact of natural disasters which, according to the institution, focus exclusively on the losses of people who have assets to lose in the first place.
“Severe climate shocks threaten to roll back decades of progress against poverty,” Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said in a statement. “Storms, floods, and droughts have dire human and economic consequences, with poor people often paying the heaviest price. Building resilience to disasters not only makes economic sense, it is a moral imperative.”
According to the report, Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters, extreme weather forces nearly 26 million individuals into poverty each year, which is 60 percent higher than all other estimates.
While the economic costs of natural disasters totaled $92 billion in 2015, with average annual losses reaching $300 billion per year, the impact to people’s well-being is unable to be measured evenly across the socioeconomic spectrum. As the study emphasized, a $1 loss means different things to a middle-class American versus someone living in rural poverty.
As such, an equal loss will be more devastating to poor and marginalized people with fewer assets, mostly because they’re unlikely to have savings, will suffer more from blows to health and education infrastructure, and will simply need more time to recover and rebuild their lives.
In Zimbabwe and Panama, for example, where drainage infrastructure is less advanced, poor people are overexposed to flooding by more than 50 percent. When Hurricane Stan ravaged Guatemala in 2005, the probability of child labor rose by 7 percent in the country’s worst-hit areas. Even today, four decades after Peru’s Ancash earthquake, children of women who survived the disaster are affected by its toppling of infrastructure and impairments to educational attainment opportunities.
Policies that could help to increase resiliency against the aftermath of tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, and windstormssuch as expanding healthcare, building social and financial safety nets, and universal access to early warning systemswould equate to a $100 billion increase in annual global consumption.