How Natural Disasters Impact Impoverished Communities

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SEATTLE, Washington — Natural disasters occur across the world and severely impact the regions they hit. However, what is frequently left out of the picture is how natural disasters impact those living in poverty. CARE’s secretary general Robert Glasse puts this issue into perspective by stating, “poverty causes disasters and disasters cause poverty.” While the high rates of poverty cause economic disasters, natural disasters place thousands and millions of people into poverty. Here is how natural disasters accelerate a nation’s poverty rate and push people under the poverty line further into extreme poverty.

Communities Impacted by Natural Disasters Face Long-term Challenges

Impoverished communities are more likely to suffer the most from natural disasters because they lack essential resources and access to proper health facilities. In an interview with CARE’s media team, Glasser suggests that the risks impoverished populations face during natural disasters can be reduced by strengthening communities’ abilities to handle these unexpected situations.

By assisting disadvantaged communities and getting them access to the resources they need, such as proper infrastructure and housing, these communities can be safe during natural disasters. Many nations face the harsh realities of natural disasters due to their geographic locations. Among these nations, most are developing countries that have a significantly high rate of poverty. Five nations that have been brutally impacted by natural disasters include India in 2019, Chile in 2010, Nigeria in 2012, Brazil in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2019. These nations all faced severe weather conditions that left vulnerable communities in trouble.

India: 2019 Cyclone Fani

In 2019, India was hit by a massive cyclone, Cyclone Fani, which destroyed Odisha, one of India’s most impoverished states. While millions of people were evacuated, many still suffered tremendously with the cyclone’s subsequential landfall.

As Cyclone Fani landed, it brought with it heavy rainfall and harsh winds. Moreover, Odisha has low coastal areas, which worsened the situation for those living in small huts. The damages done were severe; trees fell over, and seaside shacks that were run by impoverished families were destroyed. While citizens were taken to safety, these destroyed coastal shacks—which were the only source of income for many people—were a crucial step back for disadvantaged communities. Additionally, the subsequent flooding ruined many impoverished people’s homes.

Despite the severity of the cyclone, the early warnings and the government’s quick actions played a considerable role in saving many impoverished families. The government received the most vulnerable groups in evacuation camps and organized 43,000 volunteers to help with the evacuation. Moreover, the state government sent out more than 2.6 million text messages, used coastal sirens and telecasted commercial warnings on television channels. The actions taken were efficient, resulting in the government successfully moving about one million to safety camps. The government of the state of Odisha was also quick in informing the national government and getting naval ships ready with medical resources.

Chile: 2010 Earthquake

In 2010, Chile was hit by a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a tsunami. While the earthquake left the land in ruins, its impact on the impoverished communities was significantly harmful. Chile is one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies, yet the earthquake set the national economy back as many Chileans were heavily affected. Moreover, the earthquake left communities, known as “callampas,” or impoverished camps, devasted as their residence areas were destroyed. Not to mention, since Chile’s economy is primarily dependent on the export goods industry, there are not many high-paying jobs for the majority of citizens. As a result of citizen’s reliance on low-paying jobs, many live in small homes near the coast, which was entirely destroyed by the tsunami following the earthquake.

Due to the earthquake and tsunami’s damaging impact on Chile’s impoverished regions, the Chilean government had to provide quick relief to the disadvantaged communities. President Sebastián Piñera asked for many different actions that would bring relief to those severely impacted. For example, he called for the immediate repair of water and energy services so that citizens can receive these essential services. Furthermore, he also urged the rebuilding of many destroyed freeways and bridges, which would allow many to find their way back home and make travel more accessible, especially during an emergency.

While Piñera brought forward many initiatives to help affected areas, he chose not to update globalization policies, meaning that these regions continued to meet barriers to getting proper infrastructure and jobs they need to survive. Despite Chile’s poor history in addressing social leadership, the Chilean government must reexamine who is impacted the most by natural disasters, and what the government can do to help.

Nigeria: 2012 Flooding

The poverty rates in Nigeria are significantly high. In fact, the nation is known as the poverty capital of the world. On top of all of this, natural disasters leave impoverished Nigerians in even harsher situations. In 2012, Nigeria was faced with flooding as a result of rising sea levels and heavy rainfall. The flooding affected a large portion of the citizens, with about 2 million people being displaced. Moreover, the flooding destroyed agricultural land, and with a large number of citizens depending upon agriculture as their primary source of income, the 2012 natural disaster destroyed many people’s livelihoods,

When the flooding hit, the Nigerian government tried to act quickly to prevent further loss of life. The National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) worked to assist the most vulnerable groups, and quickly evacuated and relocated as many people as possible. The NEMA also worked to contain the flooding for as long as possible to prevent further damage. Although the government worked quickly to support the most vulnerable, it soon became apparent that extracting these communities would be difficult.

Furthermore, due to the heavy rainfall and increasing sea levels, it will likely continue to be challenging to maintain preventative plans. However, by taking quick action and educating citizens about flooding preparedness, the Nigerian government guides citizens on how to react to these natural occurrences. Despite these efforts, the government needs to do more to support those who depend on agriculture as their primary source of income to maintain financial stability in the future.

Brazil: 2011 Flash Floods

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was faced with severe heavy rainfall, causing floods everywhere. Roads were completely submerged in water, while trees fell throughout the city. The floodwater was also contaminated; thus citizens had to avoid making contact with the flooded areas. Moreover, the government’s warnings to stay indoors was unrealistic for those living in poverty who had to rely on daily wages to survive.

Not to mention, impoverished communities were more at risk of facing these heavy rainfalls due to their geographic location and poorly built homes. As the rain poured down, the poorly constructed houses were either destroyed or wiped away. Places near the coast also filled up with water. While flooding happens yearly, in 2011, the impact of the flooding was more severe than in previous years. The 2011 flooding left thousands of people displaced, while hundreds lost their lives.

As these yearly floods hit Brazil, it becomes increasingly difficult for the more disadvantaged communities to survive. The government does respond to the annual flooding, yet these actions are reactions to the situation and relief aid, rather than effective plans to prevent floodings’ consequential effects. During flooding, the government sents helicopters filled with food to families that don’t have access to food sources, along with clean water and other medical essentials. However, long-term solutions are yet to be seen as natural disasters in Brazil continue to disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. Urban planning seems to be a primary concern, since disadvantaged families typically reside in high-risk areas, thus being more likely to be affected by natural disasters. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of urban planning to help address the impact of natural disasters, like flash floods, on the impoverished communities.

Afghanistan: 2019 Mass Flooding

As massive flooding swept across Afghanistan, it became even more difficult for citizens to survive, especially those still recovering from an 11-month drought that left many suffering. Before the flooding, Afghanistan experienced a severe drought that heavily destroyed agricultural production, which dramatically increased the levels of hunger in the nation. Then, as a result of the flooding, many citizens were forced to leave their homes.

Khalil ur Rehman, a farmer from the Kandahar province, told The Guardian that his family had to relocate for the second time in two years due to natural disasters. While the drought destroyed agriculture, the flooding destroyed livestock, which impoverished communities heavily depend on as their source of income. Along with this, those living in poverty live in small hut-like dwellings, which tend to get swept by floods. As a result of the 2019 flooding, 10,000 families were displaced, and around 33,000 people have been directly affected.

While Afghanistan’s government supports disadvantaged communities during natural disasters like flooding and drought, it is still reliant on outside donations. For the recent flooding, the government announced $1.6 million would go toward aiding those affected by the flooding. However, Afghanistan’s funding and its foreign donations from the United States and the European Union are not enough to adequately assist those affected. The government needs to not only provide resources but also cash packages to those directly affected as many lost their source of income and homes. The Afghan government needs more long term protection plans for its citizens as natural disasters like the recent drought and flooding will a repeating occurrence for the Afghani people due to global climate developments.

—Krishna Panchal
Photo: Flickr

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