Disasters are even more disastrous than we think

The devastation in floods, earthquakes or droughts is generally measured by how much stuff or assets people lose–say the number of wrecked houses and the dollar amount it would take to rebuild them. In the course of a year, that adds up to a lot of money: $300 billion by some accounts.

But a new report from a research group at the World Bank says the toll could be a lot more if it were to look beyond stuff that’s lost and see how livelihoods are affected, particularly for a country’s poorest people. Those losses could add up to an additional $200 billion a year, says Stephane Hallegatte, an economic analyst at the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery group and lead author on the report.

“If magically, next year, we could prevent all disasters, 26 million people would be out of poverty,” he says. Either because natural disasters destroy their wealth and push them down, or the shock prevents them from climbing out of poverty.

When you looked at how much people lost in natural disasters, poor people were losing way more than rich people. When they are hit by disaster, all of their assets and wealth are in material form that can be destroyed. In villages, people have livestock that can die in a drought or flood. And people who are poor are twice more likely to live in fragile buildings that are completely destroyed when flooded or stormed, and they lose everything.

One scary finding from a study in Mexico is that when kids are removed from school because of a shock, 30 percent will not go back. We also have evidence that parents have to cut food intake on the family after a disaster. When this happens to children between 0 and 2, this has permanent impacts on their physical development and the income this person will make for the rest of their life.

[NPR]

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