Disasters escalating four-fold as climate change hits poor hardest, says Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 25 Nov 2007

Weather-related disasters have quadrupled over the last two decades, from an average of 120 a year in the early 1980s to as many as 500 today, says international agency Oxfam in a new report today. The increase in these extreme climatic events is in line with climate models developed by the international scientific community.
The number of people affected by disasters has risen, from an average of 174 million a year between 1985 to 1994 to 254 million a year between 1995 to 2004. Earlier this year the Asian floods alone affected 248 million people.
There has been a four-fold increase in floods since 1980. The number of floods and wind-storms have risen from 60 in 1980 to 240 last year. Meanwhile the number of geothermal events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, has stayed relatively static,
"This year we have seen floods in South Asia which were the worst in living memory. This is no freak year. It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people,” said Peter Chamberlain, Manager of South Asia Programs, Oxfam Australia. “Action is needed now to prepare for more disasters otherwise humanitarian assistance will be overwhelmed and recent advances in human development will go into reverse."
One short disaster after another, even if relatively small, can push poor people and communities into a downward spiral from which is very difficult to recover. Some countries are particularly prone to weather-related disasters. In August 2007 Vietnam’s central provinces were hit by Typhoon Pabuk which caused extensive flooding and in October the same area was hit by landslides and floods in another typhoon.
Vietnam is also likely to be hardest hit of all by rising sea levels according to World Bank research. Meanwhile drought there is also becoming more common. New Oxfam research in Ninh Thuan province shows how, during droughts, women suffer most, having to walk long distances to fetch water in extreme temperatures.
For poor people who are dependent upon the land, according to the report, even a slight change in the climate can have a long term impact on their livelihoods. Bangladesh lost 95% of the rice crop in many areas this year after the July floods and the recent cyclone.
To deal with the symptoms of weather related disasters, Oxfam is calling on the Australian government and the UN to make humanitarian aid faster, fairer and more flexible and to improve ways to prepare for and reduce the risk of disasters.
For more information contact Melany Markham melanym@oxfam.org.au +613 9289 9415 or +61 407 515 559