Tuesday, 21 April 2009
In a report issued today Oxfam makes the point that each year, on average, almost 250 million people are affected by ‘natural’ disasters. In a typical year between 1998 and 2007, 98 per cent of them suffered from climate-related disasters such as droughts and floods rather than, for example, devastating but relatively rare events such as earthquakes.
New research for the report projects that by 2015, this could grow by more than 50 per cent to an average of over 375 million people affected by climate-related disasters each year.
Any such projection is not an exact science, but what is clear is that substantially more people may be affected by disasters in the very near future, as climate change and environmental mismanagement create a proliferation of droughts, floods and other disasters. And more people will be vulnerable to them because of their poverty or location.
In rich countries, an average of 23 people die in any given disaster; in the least-developed countries 1,052.
The point is made that, looking to the future, for many of the world’s poor people their vulnerability to disaster may increase. Amongst the influences driving such an increase are that; there are far more people living in urban slums built on precarious land; the increasing pressure on rural land, caused by drought, population density, and increasing demand for meat and dairy products means that more people will find it difficult to get enough to eat; climate change, environmental degradation, and conflict may drive more people from their homes, stripping them of their livelihoods and assets; the current global economic crisis and it's resulting increase in the unemployment situation may result in a reduction in the provision of humanitarian aid.
The humanitarian challenge of the twenty-first century is this: an increasing total of largely local catastrophic events, increasing numbers of people vulnerable to them, too many governments failing to prevent or respond to them, and an international humanitarian system unable to cope.
Even in daunting economic times, the world can afford to meet the humanitarian needs of every person struggling to survive a disaster.
Rich governments must lead in cutting global emissions so that global warming stays as far below 2°C as possible, and provide at least $50bn per year to help least developed countries adapt to climate change.
The skills and resources exist to mitigate the threats from climate related catastrophic events. Some countries – rich and poor – have already demonstrated the political will to do just that.
The Right to Survive report shows that the humanitarian challenge of the twenty-first century demands a steep-change in the quantity of resources devoted to saving lives in emergencies and in the quality and nature of humanitarian response. Whether or not there is sufficient will to do this will be one of the defining features of our age and will dictate whether millions live or die.