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Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters

Reeks: Climate Change and Development

Economic losses from natural disasters totaled $92 billion in 2015.'Such statements, all too commonplace, assess the severity of disasters by noother measure than the damage inflicted on buildings, infrastructure, andagricultural production. But $1 in losses does not mean the same thing to a richperson that it does to a poor person; the gravity of a $92 billion loss depends onwho experiences it. By focusing on aggregate losses—the traditional approach todisaster risk—we restrict our consideration to how disasters affect those wealthyenough to have assets to lose in the first place, and largely ignore the plight ofpoor people.This report moves beyond asset and production losses and shifts its attention tohow natural disasters affect people's well-being. Disasters are far greater threatsto well-being than traditional estimates suggest. This approach provides a morenuanced view of natural disasters than usual reporting, and a perspective thattakes fuller account of poor people's vulnerabilities.Poor people suffer only a fraction of economic losses caused by disasters, butthey bear the brunt of their consequences.Understanding the disproportionate vulnerability of poor people also makes thecase for setting new intervention priorities to lessen the impact of natural disasterson the world's poor, such as expanding financial inclusion, disaster risk and healthinsurance, social protection and adaptive safety nets, contingent finance andreserve funds, and universal access to early warning systems.Efforts to reduce disaster risk and poverty go hand in hand. Because disastersimpoverish so many, disaster risk management is inseparable from povertyreduction policy, and vice versa.As climate change magnifies natural hazards, and because protectioninfrastructure alone cannot eliminate risk, a more resilient population has neverbeen more critical to breaking the cycle of disaster-induced poverty.

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