Natural Disasters Shaping Global Poverty
When people discuss the causes of global poverty, natural disasters do not often come up, but there is a correlation between natural disasters and global poverty. This may be due to the fact that natural disasters tend to be completely out of human control, while human choice and behavior can either cause or greatly reduce other factors that contribute to poverty. However, natural disasters shape global poverty through post-disaster destruction and economic and societal instability. Geographical location and weather patterns, as well as vulnerability to natural disasters, are immensely pertinent to a society’s poverty rate.

The Danger of Natural Disasters

According to the World Bank, natural disasters force over 26 million people across the globe into poverty annually and cost the global economy around $520 billion every year. These disasters also reinforce the cyclical nature of poverty; they ruin progress that countries have made to reduce poverty and leave impoverished people completely vulnerable due to their inability to cope and recover after the calamity. The five countries with the highest Climate Risk Index ratings from 1998 to 2017 all have national poverty rates above 20 percent. Honduras and Haiti rank two and four on this index, respectively and are great examples of how natural disasters shape global poverty.

Hurricane Mitch

According to a Penn State University report, Honduras lost $3.8 billion after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The agricultural economic sector dropped by 7 percent as both domestic and cash crops disappeared. According to Honduras Compassion Partners, the agriculture sector has dropped by almost 33 percent over the last 20 years. Adequate sanitation and clean water were rarities and are still not too ideal levels. The health and education system took a $33 million hit. Penn State University also reported that societal instability increased after the storm. The country saw a surge in gender inequality and sexual and domestic violence after the hurricane. Extreme weather is so influential to poverty rates because its devastation is multifaceted. Like in Honduras, natural disasters simultaneously strip individual necessities like food, shelter, security and sanitation and weaken socioeconomic resilience, that is, the ability for society as a whole to recover after a catastrophe.


Another example is Haiti. The 2010 earthquake that ravaged the island nation cost the economy around $7.8 billion. The natural disaster affected all facets of life. A Global Foundation for Disaster Reduction and Recovery report revealed just how vast the consequences of a disaster like this can be:

  • Social sectors like water, food, sanitation, health and education suffered $553.3 million in economic loss.
  • Infrastructure sectors like housing, food, energy and transportation suffered close to $1.3 billion in economic loss.
  • Production sectors like agriculture, industry, retail and finance suffered $933.3 million in economic loss.

These figures do not even include the cost of damages, which more than double the total expense. Almost a decade later, partially due to more natural disasters, Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake. These calamities bombard all of the indicators of poverty and all of the variables that have the potential to lift an individual and a society out of poverty (i.e. food security, capital, sanitation, education, health care) in one fell swoop. The post-disaster consequences underpin the cyclical complexion of poverty. This is how natural disasters shape global poverty.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is a non-governmental organization that provides relief from natural disasters in over 80 countries in Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, North America and Europe. To date, Direct Relief has provided $747,210,716 in international aid, given 160,038,758 doses of medicine and provided 3,531,448 pounds of medical supplies to victims of natural disasters. The organization distributes products such as emergency medical packs, cholera treatment kits, oral rehydration salts and hurricane prep packs. It also employs a hurricane prep map to supply aid to the affected countries. Direct Relief has been the largest provider of aid to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.

Natural disasters and global poverty have a close relationship. The ability for one extreme weather event to negatively influence all of the factors that decide poverty makes it much more difficult for countries prone to these storms to end the cycle of poverty. More research and development on disaster preparedness and recovery are necessary to allow countries the opportunity to break the feedback loop. These disasters are stymying poverty reduction efforts in countries like Honduras, Haiti and even now in Zimbabwe which is suffering from severe drought. Response and preparation to natural disasters and climate tendencies need to be a higher priority in the strategy of mitigating global poverty.

Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr


Medical humanitarian aidAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an epidemic is a significant and sudden increase in the number of cases of a particular disease in a specific area or within a certain population. Epidemics can present themselves all over the world. However, epidemics are most common in impoverished, war-torn and developing countries.

Medical humanitarian aid can help end epidemics in many impoverished countries. Most countries that receive foreign humanitarian aid are not properly equipped to deal with disease outbreaks, nor do they have the trained medical professionals needed. This is how a disease outbreak quickly turns into an epidemic.

Many international medical relief groups focus their efforts on controlling epidemics by providing adequate medical training, professionals and equipment. Listed below are some of the international medical relief groups that are working toward ending epidemics.

Medical Teams International

Medical Teams International is a Christian-based international relief group that has been using medical humanitarian aid to help end epidemics. The group works by delivering medical supplies and trained volunteers to areas in need. The mission of the group is to provide medical, dental, humanitarian and holistic relief to diverse areas without discrimination.

For over 25 years, Medical Teams International has been providing relief for refugees in impoverished and war-torn countries. For example, in 2017 the United Nations declared a famine in South Sudan as a result of the civil war that has been ongoing since 2013. Shortly after the declaration, Medical Teams International dispatched massive relief efforts to combat the Cholera and Malaria epidemics.

Currently, Medical Teams International has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 520 thousand Sudanese refugees, severely curving the disease epidemics in that area.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is one of the most well known international medical-based relief groups in the world. For over 45 years, the group has dispersed trained medical professionals and medical humanitarian aid across the globe. Medecins Sans Frontieres is also on the cusp of many medical initiatives in impoverished countries.

Medecins Sans Frontieres is known for tackling large disease outbreaks and epidemics in poor and dangerous areas. In 2017, Medecins Sans Frontieres dispatched relief efforts to Uganda after the country was declared in a state of humanitarian emergency. The group focused its efforts on the recent Cholera outbreak spreading through Uganda, setting up multiple Cholera clinics to help treat and prevent the spread of Cholera to other refugees in Uganda.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is another nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that primarily focuses on medical relief to devastated areas. The goal of the organization is to provide proper and comprehensive medical aid for impoverished areas and emergencies. In 2017, Forbes ranked Direct Relief among the top United States charities.

Over the past five years, Direct Relief has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 80 countries, many in Africa and South Asia. They have supplied over two thousand healthcare facilities and have sent billions of U.S. dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies.

These international organizations and many more have worked hard to make medical humanitarian aid more accessible to impoverished countries. Many epidemics that have started due to unsafe food, unsafe water and a generally poor environment have been contained and even eliminated by medical humanitarian aid. These organizations believe that with the right aid and volunteers, diseases around the world can be eradicated.

– Courtney Wallace

Photo: Flickr

Looking to gain some good karma? This list recommends one great way to support each of the latter four Millennium Development Goals. All charities listed have a score of 96 or higher on Charity Navigator. To see part one of this article, please click here.

MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health

Where to donate: Direct Relief

Women in low-income countries are at a startling disadvantage when it comes to maternal health. Worldwide, a woman dies from complications during pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes. Even more shocking is the fact that 90 percent of these women die from preventable conditions.

One of Direct Relief’s chief programs works to improve the health of mothers in impoverished countries. The organization’s health services train and equip midwives, provide emergency obstetric care and treat birth-related injuries.

Charity Navigator recently ranked Direct Relief at the top of its “10 of the Best Charities Everyone’s Heard Of” list. When donating to Direct Relief, you can choose to either direct your gift specifically to their Maternal and Child Health programs or let the organization use the money where it is most needed.

MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

Where to donate: United Nations Foundation Nothing But Nets

Malaria, a disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes, kills over 600,000 people every year. In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is the leading killer of children; one child dies from the disease every 60 seconds.

In 2006, Rick Reilly published an article in Sports Illustrated challenging his readers to donate to the fight against malaria. His column inspired the creation of Nothing But Nets, which in the past nine years has worked with hundreds of thousands of individuals to distribute bed nets throughout Africa. The organization has also partnered with some big names, including the World Health Organization, the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The idea behind Nothing But Nets is simple: when bed nets keep out mosquitoes, fewer people are infected with malaria. The insecticide-treated nets also kill mosquitoes, which helps slow the spread of the disease. This life-saving strategy is also relatively cheap; it costs only $10 to send a net to a family in sub-Saharan Africa.

MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Where to donate: Global Greengrants Fund

Want an organization that works to promote sustainability and social justice? Since 1993, Global Greengrants has provided worthy communities with grants to help them face environmental and social challenges. According to the organization’s website, “Global Greengrants believes local people know best how to address the environmental issues impacting their own lives.”

The Global Greengrants Fund supports over 5,300 projects in 163 countries. Before giving a grant, the organization’s team of Grant Advisors carefully reviews which projects will receive funding. Once chosen, grant recipients use the money to combat issues such as fresh water shortages, biodiversity loss and land rights violations. Women in Ghana, for example, used a Greengrant to prevent a mining company from destroying their freshwater spring. Community members in Indonesia used their Greengrant to keep palm-oil companies from illegally clear-cutting local rainforests.

MDG 8: Global Partnership for Development

What to donate: Your time!

Millennium Development Goal 8 is especially complex. It calls for fairer trade practices, better debt relief services, affordable access to pharmaceutical drugs and new technologies and increased aid for the world’s poorest countries. While all these targets may seem overwhelming, you can advocate to make your support for them heard.

Time can be just as valuable a donation as money. Call or email your Congressional representatives and ask them to support bills such as the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2015. The act would allow U.S. global food aid to reach over eight million more people while saving an estimated $440 million.

Another important bill to support is the Electrify Africa Act, which addresses the target of MDG 8 that calls for increased availability of technology in developing regions. The bill was passed by the House in 2014 but never made it through the Senate. Show your Congressional leaders that projects like this matter to you by making a 30-second phone call.

– Caitlin Harrison

To see part one of this article, please click here.

Sources: Direct Relief, Nothing But Nets, Global Greengrants Fund, The Borgen Project
Photo: Flickr