Consider the following scenario: you are located in a city that has experienced an earthquake. The initial tremors, which cause the ground to shake up and down, arrive gradually at a speed of around 4,000 miles per hour. These vibrations continue for a few minutes, during which time a second, slower set of waves materialize. These vibrations shake the foundation of the earth side to side, traveling at an approximate speed of 2,000 miles per hour. As a result, your house oscillates from side to side, generating significant pressure on its brickwork, roof beams, and wall supports.
The critical issue at hand is what factors determine the likelihood of loss in such an event, including potential loss of life, limb, livelihood, or home. The solution is relatively straightforward: to be at the greatest risk, you must live in a poor nation with a corrupt, dishonest, or inefficient government.
Sadly, this is the case for more than half of the world’s population since they reside in urban areas. By 2010, about 73 percent of the world’s urban population will be found in developing nations, with many individuals residing in unregulated housing. Approximately one billion people live in shantytowns and slums, and this number is increasing annually by 25 million.
Ultimately, if the walls in your dwelling collapse or if the roof caves in, it is more likely to occur within your slum tenement, your child’s school, or at the shabby sweatshop where you attempt to earn a dollar a day. These findings are supported by a 200-page study by the UN’s International Strategy for Natural Disaster Reduction, which collected data from 1975 to 2007. A group of professionals, including meteorologists, seismologists, vulcanologists, earthquake engineers, hydrologists, and flood control experts, analyzed the numbers. Words like "death" and "economic destruction" are not theoretical concepts for these academicians.
Risk And Poverty In A Changing Climate tells a depressing tale. The world’s cities have grown progressively perilous, and climate change and environmental destruction in rural areas will exacerbate the issue. This is because the combination of global warming and habitat deterioration will make it more challenging to live in rural areas, resulting in even more individuals being pushed towards cities. This will also boost the likelihood of flooding, drought, and other climate-related catastrophes, resulting in an ever-greater number of potential casualties concentrated in unregulated housing in crowded urban areas.
Within this broader picture, some fascinating extra risk factors exist. A disproportionate percentage of the planet’s surface pose the most significant dangers. For instance, over the past three decades, Bangladesh, India, and China accounted for 75 percent of the flood fatality risk due to their heavy population density. Countries without any coastal area or too much of it, such as small island states and land-locked developing nations, are the most economically vulnerable. They are already impoverished and are hit hardest by modest natural disasters.
Vanuatu, a beautiful Pacific coral island paradise, harbors the most significant potential fatalities from a tropical cyclone, with St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean following closely behind. These islands lie on the paths of tropical storms and, like many other places, are impoverished. The number of people in Japan at risk from typhoons is similar to the number at risk in the Philippines. Regardless of this fact, fatalities in the latter nation are 17 times more likely since being impoverished makes a difference in every sense.
While natural disasters also impact the well-off, the world’s costliest natural disasters have occurred in Japan and the United States. However, both countries have robust economies, with citizens possessing insurance coverage, employment options, bank accounts with money, access to good roads, and helpful communities and governments with clear disaster response plans. Individual losses may transpire, but communities can recover.
Unfortunately, natural disasters incur a terrible and far-reaching toll on impoverished nations. Individuals who survive may lose everything they own in a flood or cyclone, including their families, homes, crops, livestock, tools, bedding, stores, roads, friends, schools, and even the nearest medical clinic. They may also live in nations where the government is unable or unwilling to assist in the situation.
The poor may require years to return to their previous living standards after a disaster, leaving them at risk of the same calamity in the future. Those that could benefit the most from a national or regional effort to plan for natural disasters are precisely the ones who get impacted the hardest.
The issue lies with governments that are weak, corrupt, or ineffectual as they are less inclined to implement plans that would benefit the most vulnerable sections of society.
Furthermore, due to the ever-increasing population, the number of individuals at risk of facing natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, droughts, forest fires, and landslides continues to rise. The forests are being destroyed, the soil is eroding, and the landscapes are drying up, which is compromising the natural protection against disasters like these.
The growth in population and the economy is causing the emission of greenhouse gases, which is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards.
Countries that are already struggling with poverty, environmental degradation, and geography will be the hardest hit by these hazards, and it is unfortunate that governments in these countries are likely to be the least effective. It is indeed a disheartening situation.