“Not only is it real, it’s here, and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster.”
— Barack Obama (2006)
- Natural disasters have left more than 600,000 people dead, 4.1 billion injured or displaced and inflicted $2 trillion in economic damages in the past 20 years.
- 90% of all natural disasters in the past two decades have been weather-related, including 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other extreme weather events.
Some natural disasters are inevitable but the devastation caused by them is not. Developing countries are particularly hard-hit because of a lack of resources and infrastructure to cope with natural hazards: Weather-related events have often turned into humanitarian catastrophes.
Learn how climate change will escalate natural disasters and why building resilience to them has become critical.
Climate Change, Extreme Weather Patterns and the Vulnerability of Poor Countries
One of the regularly discussed aspects of climate change is global warming and the accompanying rise in sea levels. As world temperatures rise at historically unprecedented rates – July 2016 was the hottest month on record since 1880 – significant portions of many important coastal cities may be underwater within the next century. Another relatively less talked about, but equally ominous, aspect of climate change is that it will increase the risk of extreme weather patterns and severity of natural disasters, such as droughts, storms, hurricanes, and floods.
Already, the rate of natural disasters is increasing: half of the extreme weather events in 2014 were linked to climate change. In 2015 alone, natural disasters were responsible for almost 23,000 deaths and $67 billion in economic damage. Poor countries in the developing world – countries that bear the least responsibility for carbon emissions during the 20th century – will bear most of the burden of climate change. These countries are particularly susceptible because of their weak infrastructures: 90% of the disaster deaths between 1996 and 2015 occurred in developing countries.
Disaster Resilience: Reducing Risk and Building Infrastructure
The moral responsibility to improve the disaster management and resilience infrastructure in such countries lies with us, i.e. the developed world. As natural disasters are aggravated by climate change, the developing world is increasingly in need of foreign help in making it more disaster resilient. As a result, the role of humanitarian organizations such Oxfam has become indispensable, especially considering the massive cuts in foreign developmental aid by the current US administration.
Disaster preparation and emergency relief are not just important in light of the anticipated rise in climate-related disasters. Calamities such as earthquakes, which are not linked to climate change, also take a devastating toll on poor countries. The 2015 Nepal earthquake, a staggering 7.8 on the Richter scale, left almost 9,000 dead, destroyed more than 500,000 homes and affected 8 million people. Within three months of the disaster, Oxfam had provided lifesaving support to over 480,000 people. However, more than a year from the catastrophe, little reconstruction has taken place and more than 600,000 Nepalese still live in temporary housing. Without the efforts of Oxfam, and other similar organizations, in providing emergency relief and supporting long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation, these disasters could turn into grave humanitarian crises. “The risk of natural disasters is greater than ever. However, the loss of life and material destruction that accompanies these events is not a necessary consequence: With the resilience infrastructure and response mechanism in place, we can avert potential humanitarian crises in these turbulent times.”
“The risk of natural disasters is greater than ever. However, the loss of life and material destruction that accompanies these events is not a necessary consequence: With the resilience infrastructure and response mechanism in place, we can avert potential humanitarian crises in these turbulent times.”
Yet, much more remains to be done to strengthen local infrastructures within these countries so they can cope better with natural disasters. It is heartening to see different nations pull together a relief effort, but that should be followed by a long-term strategy in bolstering disaster preparation. Oxfam is leading the movement to fund and train local humanitarian leaders to both reduce disaster risk and bolster disaster response. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by UN member states in 2015, was a step in the right direction. It aims to reduce disaster deaths, economic losses, infrastructural damages, and increase disaster resilience and management internationally by 2030. With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, added to geophysical events such as earthquakes which we cannot predict, the risk of natural disasters is greater than ever. However, the loss of life and material destruction that accompanies these events is not a necessary consequence: With the right resilience infrastructure and response mechanism in place, we can avert many potential humanitarian crises in these turbulent times.