Time and again, we witness how natural disasters reinforce poverty and other development challenges. Disasters strike countries around the world with alarming frequency – including severe storms, floods, or earthquakes that cause devastating damages. What is often overlooked in the reporting are the severe and long-term impacts that these events can have on the livelihoods and well-being of people. In the aftermath of these events, affected households—especially the poor and vulnerable—are often forced to cut down on food, education, or healthcare expenditures, or even to liquidate what’s left of their assets. These negative coping strategies often carry consequences long after the winds and storm surges have passed, and this is particularly true for children.
2018: It has been 100 years since the Spanish flu pandemic and 10 years since the global financial crisis. The Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people, more than the two World Wars combined. It was so lethal because it occurred when people were at their weakest, suffering from the Great War: malnourished, living in conditions of poor hygiene, on the move as combatants or refugees, and lacking proper medical facilities. A decade ago, the global financial crisis struck, triggering not only a prolonged recession in the United States and other advanced countries but also a deepening distrust of globalization as a force for progress. And this had consequences well beyond the realm of economics. Lacking unity of purpose and grappling with their own domestic troubles, the nations of the West were unable to deal with the Arab uprisings and could not articulate a response to the Syrian crisis. Brexit, the rise of nationalism in Europe, the neo-isolationist policies in the United States, and the recent wave of trade protectionism have deep roots, but their triggers can be traced, in one way or another, to the global financial crisis of 2008.
Last week we had World Food Day on October 16 and World Poverty Day on October 17. The good news from World Poverty Day is that there is global progress on reducing extreme poverty. Based on the latest available data, it is estimated that in 2015 there were 736 million people living on less than US$1.90/day, which compares very favorably to the 1,895 million people living in extreme poverty in 1990. And while the world’s population grew from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 7.4 billion in 2015, the poverty rate fell from 36 percent to 10 percent or 1 percentage point per year on average over this period.
In June 2015, after two days of heavy rain, flood water washed away Sarah’s small store in Accra, which provided for her family of three (1). The flood that hit the city in June 2015 affected around 53,000 people in the city and caused an estimated US$100 million in damages. Slum areas in the Odaw basin were among the worst hit.
In 2017, a severe and prolonged drought had hit countries in Africa and the Middle East, bringing crop shortage, livestock death, water scarcity and disease. Food shortages escalated into near-famine conditions in countries with low resilience against shocks, such as Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In such a context, rapid quantitative data is required to respond to urgent developmental needs of the affected populations. Therefore, we designed and implemented the Rapid Emergency Response Survey (RERS).
Around 250 million migrants currently live outside their countries of birth, making up approximately 3.5 percent of the world population. Despite the widespread perception of a global migration crisis, this ratio has stayed remarkably stable since the end of the Second World War and lags well behind other major metrics of globalization – international trade, capital flows, tourism etc. A more remarkable statistic is that refugees, at around 15 million, account for 6 percent of the migrant population and only 0.2 percent of world population. In other words, we can fit all refugees in the world in a city with an area of 5000 square kilometers – roughly the size of metropolitan Istanbul or London or Paris – and still have some space left over.
One in eight people worldwide still go to bed hungry every night, and the increased severity of natural disasters like droughts only exacerbates this situation. Humanitarian agencies and development practitioners are increasingly focused on helping the most vulnerable recover from the effect of these shocks by boosting their resilience.
Massive flooding from storm surges is a major threat to lives and property in low-lying coastal areas during cyclones. Recent examples of devastating cyclone-induced storm surges include Haiyan 2013 (5.2m or 17 feet), Aila 2009 (4m/13ft), Ike 2008 (4.5m-6m/15-20 feet), Nargis 2008 (more than 3m/10ft), Sidr 2007 (4m /13ft), Katrina 2005 (7.6m-8.5m/25-28 feet). The impacts are particularly disastrous when storm surges strike densely populated coastal areas.
A few years ago, West Africa was gripped by the Ebola outbreak. The onset of the virus devastated communities and weakened the economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Ebola moved quickly and an immediate response by development partners was badly needed. The governments of the three affected countries requested assistance from UN agencies and the World Bank to lead a coordinated effort to curb the epidemic. The Bank responded by restructuring ongoing health projects to free up resources for the governments to quickly contract UN agencies.