Climate Change and Poverty: Poorest Hit Hardest

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HANSON, Massachusetts — The World Bank recently released a report on climate change and poverty, and specifically the effect of climate change on the world’s poorest people. The report reveals that unless global change occurs to stop climate change, these areas will be devastated by disaster and the potential for violence.

“People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change,” stated the report.

As the climate changes, it causes an overall increase in intense weather events and natural disasters such as flooding, extreme heat waves and storms. The areas that are most vulnerable are home to some of the world’s poorest people. These areas do not have the resources to recover from extreme events and already struggle with issues like food shortages, which will be exacerbated by the changing climate.

When discussing the effects of climate change, it seems as though the harmful effects will not be seen for many years because the changes appear slow. However, the impacts are being felt now and will increase within this lifetime.

A two degree Celsius rise is expected to occur within 20 years to 30 years and a 4 degree rise is predicted by the end of the century if nothing is done to slow the effects of climate change. These changes may seem small, but the temperature has only risen 0.8 degrees since pre-industrial times, and the world is already feeling the damaging impact.

The World Bank report outlines what will happen in the very near future in these three especially vulnerable areas, and around the world, if something is not done.

Africa:

  • The greatest issue in sub-Saharan Africa will be food security, along with shifts in rainfall, flooding and droughts.
  • With a two degree increase, which is expected to occur by 2030-2040, farmers will lose 40 percent to 80 percent of arable cropland.
  • If the temperature is allowed to rise by 4 degrees, which is expected to occur by the 2080s, southern Africa will experience a 30 percent decrease in rainfall while eastern Africa will experience increased rainfall.
  • There will be ecosystem shifts caused by the rise in carbon dioxide from grasses to woodlands, which will limit the resources for grazing cattle and will harm the livelihoods of herders.

Southeast Asia:

  • By 2030, if nothing is done, the seas will rise by 30 centimeters, which would cause massive flooding in coastal cities, villages and croplands. Salt water floods would destroy crops and infiltrate the groundwater, contaminating the drinking water supply.
  • Increased ocean acidity and warming waters destroys the coral reefs, leaving the area more vulnerable to storms, diminishing the tourism business and reducing fish habitats.
  • Typhoon intensity and frequency is expected to increase.
  • Warming waters and decreased oxygen will greatly reduce the ocean fish catch for communities that rely on this resource for their livelihood.

South Asia:

  • Inconsistencies in rain patterns and monsoon seasons will cause some people to find their homes underwater while others are lacking enough water for drinking, crop irrigation and power generation.
  • The inconsistent rain and extreme heat waves will reduce crop production.
  • There will be increased occurrences of intense cyclones and flooding.

Making the relationship between climate change and poverty worse, climate change also increases the potential for conflict and violence in these areas. The CIA calls climate change a “threat multiplier” because climate change alone does not cause violence, but it does cause other problems that often lead to conflict, especially in already unstable areas.

Food shortages, increased poverty and migrations are situations that can lead to conflict and are all part of the effects of climate change. There are food riots when the supplies run low, clashes between herders over scarce resources and competition for drinking water.

Unfortunately, increased conflict reduces an area’s ability to deal with the effects of climate change because it creates an unstable community that cannot focus on procedures to deal with the effects of climate change.

The irony is that the areas facing the greatest harm are not the major contributors to climate change. Instead, industrial countries are responsible for the changes that harm people half a world away. However, the report stressed that if no major efforts are made to slow climate change, then nobody will be safe from its damaging effects.

The writers of the report at the World Bank are hopeful that those who have contributed to climate change will be willing to help stop it, and they have already met with some success. The World Bank is working with 130 countries and is developing a Climate Management Action Plan to help the vulnerable countries be better able to adapt to the changing climate.

The aid of developed countries is instrumental in helping these poorer regions with their ability to deal with the effects of climate change. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is optimistic about the world’s capacity to meet this challenge: “I do not believe the poor are condemned to the future scientists envision in this report.”

The overarching message of the report is a call to action. Those who have the ability to help are responsible for working to slow the effects of climate change and help the countries who will be most affected deal with the changes that have already occurred.

Sources: The Guardian, World Bank
Photo: Dawn

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Abby DeVeuve

Abby DeVeuve is a BORGEN Magazine Editor based in Hanson, MA.

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