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blog: The Impact of Natural Disasters on an Inclusive Society

Author: James Reeves
Inclusive Society New Dimensions

Exposure to natural disasters affects many communities around the world.  In areas where disasters are a regular event, their impact often becomes pervasive and affects all aspects of life.

Understanding the economic costs of disasters is a key first stage in making the case for investment in disaster risk management and mitigation.  Various estimates suggest that the monetary costs of disasters can be between 3% and 5% of annual GDP, and often more, depending upon the situation.

Reported impact of disasters on access to transport, by region

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For the communities affected, the costs are however much higher, as repeated disasters create a downward spiral leading to inter-generational poverty.

Work in Tajikistan led by ITP, with partners, IMC Worldwide and M Vector, created the opportunity to assess the costs of disasters that affect the road network.  By undertaking 400 surveys with residents in areas that are regularly affected by disasters we were able to identify the key impacts.  These include children missing school, growers not being able to access markets and sick people not being able to get to hospital.

Tajikistan is regularly affected by a range of disasters, including landslides, mudflows, avalanches and flooding, which have different impacts.  Understanding the impact of a sudden, but short-lived avalanche, as being different to a slower and longer-lasting flood, is important to identify potential mitigation.

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Disasters affect different household members differently.  Tajikistan has a large proportion of female-headed households, particularly in rural areas, as men migrate to find work.  Disasters create added pressures for these women, as they reduce household capital and further reduce economic opportunities.  In some areas, more than 60% of respondents noted an effect on economic activity.

Through this research, we were able to identify a clear relationship between the incidence of disasters and rural poverty, shown through an Index of Multidimensional Poverty.  Areas which are more regularly cut off by disasters exhibit much higher levels of poverty.  These areas also exhibit a different demographic profile, as younger, working age people migrate to find work, often leaving women, children and the elderly behind.  As a result, these areas become increasingly dependent upon remittances, which are unreliable, particularly when they come from abroad.

Predictions of total precipitation across Tajikistan under different climate change scenarios (Source: Liu et al, 2020)

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As climate change takes effect, the identified impacts of disasters are likely to worsen, as disasters become more frequent and larger scale.  It is important to properly assess the impact of climate change, as it is not always uniform, as is the case in Tajikistan, where some parts of the country will get drier, with others experiencing greater precipitation.  An analysis of the impacts is also important as some are actually likely to be positive (longer growing season), with others being negative (more avalanches).  

These differences create the need for a menu of mitigating investments, reflecting the type of disaster faced and the particular impacts.  These need to be multi-faceted, not least because it is often impossible to stop a disaster from happening, or not economically viable to do so.  Increasing women’s access to economic opportunities, land ownership, childcare and health services will often have a much greater impact on a family’s resilience to disasters, than physical mitigation measures.

Natural disasters have a significant impact on people’s access to transport, work and education. They also create financial pressures and often disproportionately affect the poorer in society. In order to ensure an Inclusive Society, it is not only the physical mitigation to protect against the disaster that is required, it is vital to support access to economic opportunities, land ownership, childcare and health services to increase resilience.

To find out more about ITP’s international project experience, please visit our “Where We Work” page.


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