According to a 2017 report from the World Bank, the link between poverty and natural disasters is simple: “natural disasters increase global poverty,” sending 26 million people into poverty each year and generating annual losses of $520 billion. Countries with the most disasters are spread around the globe, and the extent of the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes depends on where they strike.
The World Bank notes that a flood or earthquake can be disastrous for those in poverty while having a negligible impact on a country’s aggregate wealth or production. Impact on aggregate wealth has traditionally been the measurement for natural disaster severity. Measuring the severity of natural disaster based solely upon economic loss often means the poor are overlooked.
The top five countries with the most disasters are China, the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia and India. The list of countries with the most disasters is different than that of countries with the most deaths caused by natural disaster. Of the top 10 countries with the highest disaster mortality in 2014–China, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Peru, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Japan and Indonesia–seven have low-income or lower-middle-income economies. There seems to be a correlation here, as 46.1 percent of disaster-related deaths in 2014 occurred in these seven countries.
The global average for socioeconomic resilience, defined as a country’s ability to bounce back from events such as natural disasters, is 62 percent. Low to middle-income economies generally have lower socioeconomic resilience rates than high-income economies. This means that after a natural disaster they struggle more than high-income economies to recuperate. For example, Guatemala, a lower-middle income economy, has a socioeconomic resiliency of 25 percent, while Denmark, a high-income economy, sits at 81 percent.
Measurement of natural disaster impact is changing to account more for those living in poverty. In a 2017 report, the World Bank addresses this issue by providing new strategies for determining natural disaster impact. These account for disaster impact in terms of loss of well-being rather than loss of financial assets alone.
Implementation of disaster management procedures in low- to middle-income countries can help protect against economic loss and reduce the likelihood of people falling into poverty. The World Bank estimates that policies targeting disaster response can save governments $100 billion dollars per year. Unlike in the past, the World Bank adds that “disaster risk management can be considered a poverty reduction policy,” providing a window into the future where resources are available to lessen the impact of these unavoidable phenomena in countries with the most disasters.
– Cleo Krejci