Poverty causes disasters and disasters cause poverty

by Sandra Bulling | CARE International Secretariat
Monday, 9 May 2011 08:53 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 As an international conference on disaster risk reduction gets underway in Geneva, CARE International warns that the increasing number of humanitarian disasters are eroding the coping ability of poor people and therefore undermining their ability to escape poverty. “Poverty causes disasters and disasters cause poverty,” says Robert Glasser, CARE’s Secretary General and one of the speakers at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, May 8 – 13, 2011. “When disasters strike, poor people often lose their assets on which their survival depends. At the same time, their limited resources, lack of access to education and health services can increase their expose to risks. For example, many poor people’s livelihoods depend on agriculture. But a drought or flood can destroy a year’s income in the blink of an eye.” In many regions, risk is growing. Population increase, climate change, increasing urbanization and environmental degradation are some of the drivers of future disaster risk for poor people worldwide. In recent decades, there has been a rise in both the number and impact of natural disasters. Developing countries are most exposed to the risks of disasters as their inhabitants often lack the ability to cope with or adapt to such events, especially in the case of re-occurring disasters. As more than half the world’s population lives in cities, poorly planned and managed urban development is a key driver of disaster risk. Poor housing, lack of health facilities and infrastructure put nearly one billion urban dwellers living in informal settlements at risk of disasters. The lives and livelihoods of people living in flood plains, low lying coastal areas and steep slopes are particularly in danger. Deforestation, overgrazing and land degradation have damaged ecosystems and are exacerbating the risks of disasters such as floods or landslides. Very often, it is women who are most affected by disasters. More women than men are injured or killed during hurricanes and floods. They have in general less access to political and economic resources needed to protect themselves from disasters, and to deal with disaster effects. Women are less likely to know how to swim; they are often restricted from running fast by their clothing; their role as caretakers of children and older people as well as cultural rules restrict them from leaving their homes without the accompaniment of a male relative.  “We need to reduce the risks for poor people by strengthening their capabilities to cope with recurring disasters,” Glasser says. “One dollar invested in disaster risk reduction saves up to seven dollars in emergency response and rehabilitation.” This includes assisting people to diversify and adapt their livelihoods, helping build capacities of urban governance to ensure urban dwellers can live on safe lands and have access to infrastructure and services, and protecting ecosystems through community-based natural resource management. CARE empowers local communities, especially women, to reduce their risk of disasters and strengthen their resilience. In Vietnam, for example, CARE assists communities in planting mangroves, which not only protect their villages from typhoons but have significant environmental benefits, including controlling erosion and nurturing fisheries. In India CARE constructed water supply points to withstand the effects of flooding, and to continue functioning during periods of inundation. In Peru CARE helped increase the capacity of communities to deal with extreme weather through capacity building, technical assistance and the development of pilot projects.