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Natural Disasters

Impact of Natural Disasters on Poverty

and Human Development
Ericka Tapia
English 219
Millions of people every year are affected by natural disasters. More recently, weve seen
the tragedies that have fallen on communities, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, and
earthquakes. From the destruction of buildings to the spread of diseases, natural disasters can
devastate a country overnight. Most countries that are affected are lower-class countries, with low
progress. How do these disasters effect the development in these areas? Why is it that these
countries are more at risk? There are outcomes that are long term and arent just physically or
environmental, but results that relate to the progress of countries; for the community and for the
citizens. The rate of natural disasters is growing. Between the years of 2005 and 2014, the average
annual of weather related disasters doubled from 1995 (Shepard, 2013). Countries that are more
developed are better prepared to handle the impact of disasters along with the aftermath. In
countries where there is low development, natural disasters tend to trap people in a cycle of
poverty, due to lack of resources. This makes them less likely to recover in the long run, putting
urbanization at risk. Urbanization refers to the growth of urban population, and the spread of the
lifestyle. This includes construction of buildings and development of urban infrastructure such as
structure for water, sewage, transportation, communication and energy supply.

Who Is Most at Risk?

The above map displays the reality of the situation. Natural disasters tend to hit and are at most at
risk in areas that are poorly developed. Indonesia, India, and the Philippines are the top countries
hit by the highest number of disasters. The number of deaths is linked to the countries own
situations. Certain geographical locations are connected to higher death tolls. Areas with weaker
public institutions, and economic societal inequality.

Human Impacts
There are many factors that play a role in developing a country. From health to economics, its
important to understand these to understand the issue.

Displaced Populations: Population displacement is an immediate effect of a natural disaster.

Many people are forced to abandon their homes and seek shelter in other regions. A large amount
of refugees can disrupt accessibility to health care and education, along with food supplies and
even clean water. Tropical storm Agatha in 2010 increased poverty by 14% (Elliot, 2016).

Health Risks: Floods can bring risks such as stagnant water, allowing breeding of waterborne
bacteria and malaria. Death tolls can rise even long after the disaster has passed. Again, with the
limited accessibility to health care in these countries leads to issues.

Food Scarcity: Thousands of people go hungry as a result of destroyed crops and loss of
agricultural supplies. Not to mention these linked to family businesses and income. As a result,
food prices rise, reducing families purchasing power. This increases the risk for malnutrition. This
also effects the countrys economy, the little they did have.

Emotional Aftershock: Besides the physical troubles, these disasters can have an impact
emotionally. People are confronted with scenes of destruction and the deaths of loved ones and
friends. Especially in children. The prevalence of PTSD in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana
rose from 15% a few months after Katrina to 21% a year later (Elliot, 2016).

According to Childfund.org, these are factors that put countries more at risk:

Poorly constructed buildings

Poor sanitation

High density population

Limited resources for disaster response

Lack of economy safety nets

My main goal through this research was to search into the different factors that impact
development, then find how these were affected by a disaster. I conducted my research with the
use of secondary resources. Mainly websites and scholarly articles had the most information. I
looked for research conducted about the effects of natural disasters and also statistics and numbers
supporting this reasoning. I first started with researching the basics of natural disasters. Where they
occur most, and immediate effects. I then tried to dig deeper in why certain countries are affected
more and the long term effects. One issue with researching this topic is finding first-hand
information. Its very limited in finding first hand experiences or people who have seen the long
term effects and development of a country. There is an absence of longitudinal data on the welfare
of households before and after disasters. The main approach of this research is to separate the
effects that natural disasters have on social indicators (development, poverty levels).

The next step I would take with this research is to analyze similarities within each category, and
how they all have a role in communities and development. I want to bring them together to focus
on the negative effects, how it is difficult for people in poverty. I want to try and find the evidence,
statistics, on the lack of structure in countries with a high level of poverty. This is where I ran into
the most problems. This research area of natural disasters is left out. Media and research is mainly
focused on the now, the present. It was difficult to find a great deal of research over a span of
years, for the long term affects. Lastly, I want to examine the importance of this topic for the future
and for disaster relief. In order to best help a country or a situation, its best to know everything
about it. In this case, who is most affected and in which areas. With climate change being on the
table, and were seeing a high increase in the amount of natural disasters, this issue is important for
global assistance. We cannot control or stop disasters, but we can control how we prepare and react
to them.

Through this research I found that natural disasters slow down and negatively affect the
development of the targeted countries. They spiral into human catastrophes when the embed
the poverty that already exists, and pull more people down with it. Not only are they
immediately hit with damage, long term effects take place; economic, health, and culturally.
Disasters leave these already struggling countries in an endless cycle that is difficult to get out
of. With limited resources, its important to understand the effects to better help and aid them.

Natural disasters push 26 million people into poverty every year (Elliott, 2016). It costs the
global economy more than a half a trillion dollars in lost consumption (Beth, 2015). These
disasters and climate shocks threaten decades of progress against poverty. Impoverished
people are more likely to live in hazard-exposed areas. They are also less likely to invest and
prepare in risk-reducing measures. Given this, poverty is both a cause and a consequence of

Poverty was the main factor in finding how disasters effect development. Long term setbacks were
found in health, education, and employment opportunities. Immediate impacts are evident. It was
found that 95% of deaths caused by disaster occur in poor countries (Beth, 2015). I gathered my
results into two main categories: Health and Economics. These were the biggest contributors to
community development.


Taking a look at Table 1, its clear the effects are serious and in this case, a drought takes an effect
on children and their future. This shows that disasters will cause a threat to children who arent

even born yet. Health and education will be delayed, and it is out of their control. Disasters can
destroy roads, telephone lines, and transportation and communication links are destroyed. Damage
to food sources and utilities may create significant public health threats. They can also destroy
local health infrastructures like hospitals. This will lead to major population movements, often
where the area cannot handle the situation. Displacing large population increases the risk for
outbreaks of diseases. All of this leads to a higher mortality rate, along with issues for citizens who
cannot retrieve the proper health care. A communitys economic infrastructure may be so
damaged, their ability to provide healthcare could be diminished for years.


As stated before, disasters cause trillions of dollars in damage. Researching into a more personal
level, I found that families and individuals were majorly affected in a negative light. For example,
the 2009 typhoon that occurred in the Philippines. Those who were hit the hardest were those who
were self-employed; fishermen, farmers, small business owners and informal-sector workers
(Matthias, 2014). Their households were disrupted as they transferred to less capital intensive and
less profitable occupations. They also suffered with getting access to government and international
assistance. Rizal, one of the provinces hit hardest, saw the poverty rate double. Six years later,
recovery was still far off, with 8% of families still below the poverty line (Matthias, 2014). Poverty
and inequality often will push people to live on the boundaries, in risky places. Places such as
floodplains, along rivers, or on hillsides. This encourages a vicious cycle of debt and hardship. The
2010 earthquake in Haiti cost an estimated $14 billion, equivalent to 160% of Haitis GDP (Gross
Domestic Product) (Matthias, 2014). This is the monetary measure of the market value of all goods
and services produced within a period of time.

Wealthier groups have a better chance to recover than lower income groups. The long term effect
of lower employment forces people to rely on temporary jobs. Economic growth is stunted and
these countries get set back from their attempt to reduce poverty.


Natural disasters are a relevant and important topic for the future of the world. Weve seen an
increasing amount of them occur, and of great destruction. They harmfully influence communities
and countries. Its vital to be aware of whos most at risk and why. Its imperative to realize that
disasters have damages that are long term.


Those countries who are in in poverty rely heavily on donations and help from other countries to
overcome these hardships. Especially for disaster relief organizations, its important to be informed
on these situations. To know exactly that there are hazards such as contaminated water, food
scarcity, and long term economic effects. These countries need more than just some supplies. They
will need major help economically to help people survive and rise out of poverty. Knowing that
poverty is a cause and consequence in the aftermath of disasters is key to piecing together the
importance of bringing awareness and preparedness. The development of a country will determine
the aftermath of a disaster. It will also determine the help they get. Unfortunately, many disasters
in un-urbanized areas go without notice, leaving people to struggle in a cycle of poverty.


Given the growing number of people living in exposed areas, disaster risk is increasing. People are
dying and suffering given no help. Its also crucial to be aware of the long term health effects.
Tracing to even heights of children, these disasters are taking a toll on its victims. We fail to realize
as a society the things these people might be going through. To this day, people in Puerto Rico still
dont have full power. In some cases, countries are left without clean water, and children are left
with PTSD. These disasters will affect people for the rest of their lives unless real, long term action
is take. Disaster relief organizations will need to take this information and prepare to help further
in development. Natural disasters have influenced communities more than we realize. In order to
better assist them, we first must understand the underlying cause.

Conclusion/ Recommendations

This research has shed light on the cause and effect of natural disasters, whos at risk, and why it
matters for the future. Those in poverty are most at risk, and therefore are more affected. It delays
development in countries and leaves families stuck. Disaster risk management is a key factor in
fixing this. Disaster risk should concentrate on areas that are most at risk. Disaster relief efforts
should focus on saving livelihoods and lives. There should be clear, strong strategies to reduce
poverty and build the assets of those disturbed. Programs would be very useful, enforcing long-
term livelihood. This will take international investment, though its clear more money needs to be
directed to maximizing disaster preparedness and poverty reduction. Organization should map out
and plan exactly how these countries will be affected long term, to better assess how to help them.
This is crucial if we want of goal of greatly reducing poverty within reach.


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Elliott, Larry. Natural Disasters Push 26m into Poverty Each Year, Says World Bank.
The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Nov. 2016,

Garschagen, Matthias, et al. World Risk Report 2014. Alliance Development Works,
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Mitsuki, Shannon, et al. Children Exposed to Disaster: I. Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic

Symptoms and Symptom Profiles. Science Direct, Elsevier B.V,

Noji, Erik K. The Public Health Consequences of Disasters. Oxford Univ. Press, 1997.

Shepard, Andrew, et al. The Geography of Poverty, Disasters and Climate Extremes in
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University, www.e-education.psu.edu/geog30/node/379

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