How Disasters Lock People in Poverty and How to Stop It
WRITTEN BY JOSH AYERS
Can the world ever eradicate poverty? At Food for the Hungry, we believe it’s possible.
In fact, we see progress toward this every day in communities all around the world where we work to ease human suffering and graduate communities from extreme poverty. But, it is an uphill climb.
FH’s vision to end all forms of human poverty worldwide requires us to walk with churches, leaders and families to address the root causes of both poverty and impoverishment.
What’s the difference?
Passive forces hold back a community’s progress in every step of the transformational development journey. These include things like lack of shelter and access to sufficient and nutritious food. Other challenges include lack of basic education, clean water and sanitation, livelihoods and healthcare.
But then there are active forces that seek to push people back into poverty, even as they make progress toward escaping it. A recent study across 14 countries showed that as many as 62% of those who escape poverty slide back into it at some point in the future.
These impoverishing forces include natural and manmade disasters like earthquakes, floods, droughts and conflict. In extremely poor households, even the death of a productive family member and her funeral can erase years of progress out of poverty. A joyous wedding can put families in vulnerable positions as they sell off assets to cover the expenses of that special day.
Vulnerable people may never recover from disasters.
An earthquake or hurricane can take the lives of many. They also leave survivors in a more vulnerable position than before. In Haiti in 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the country’s breadbasket at harvest time. The storm severely reduced food availability and cash income for the most vulnerable.
Likewise, cyclical droughts in northern Kenya destroy livelihoods. Lack of water reduces the value of pastoralists’ camel herds, crop harvests, and available drinking water. Annual flooding in Bangladesh destroys homes and rice crops of vulnerable households along the Jamuna River. The cumulative effects of these compounding shocks make escaping poverty difficult or impossible.
On the eve of 2017’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), Food for the Hungry works diligently to ensure that communities are able to sustainably manage the impact of these disasters and continue transformation. The impact of disasters, shocks and stresses depends on the complex interactions that exist between hazards, the people’s vulnerabilities, and the spiritual, social, political, natural, physical, economic and human aspects of the context in which they live. To address this impact, FH works in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) with an aim to help vulnerable communities prevent, mitigate, and prepare for these disasters. Likewise, we also work to help build the capacities of vulnerable communities to cope with disasters in a positive way; to “bounce back.”
In other words, FH works to build the resilience of vulnerable communities.
For example, FH works with the community of Rawan in northern Kenya through a community-managed disaster risk reduction (CMDRR) process. The program helps community members reduce their vulnerabilities to drought and the resulting conflicts over pasture and water. The community is encouraged and supported to form DRR Committees who then work to identify their major risks and develop plans to reduce them.
Ms. Buke Gababa is the chairwoman of Rawan’s Disaster Risk Reduction committee. Thanks to her courageous leadership, the committee is now making improvements to the community dispensary to properly serve the community’s sick.
She is also leading the community to deepen shallow reservoirs to store water for the dry season, when many natural water sources dry up and leave residents vulnerable.
Another risk reduction and resilience effort is to develop a joint grazing management plan with nearby communities to ensure the scarce pasture land available to them is properly stewarded in order to avoid inter-communal conflict between herders.
Ensuring That Communities Permanently Overcome Poverty
By addressing those forces like drought and conflict that threaten to dismantle any development progress the communities make, FH is helping to ensure that communities not only get out of poverty, but that they stay out. Even after communities graduate from extreme poverty and FH exits a community, through FH’s sustainable Risk and Resilience methodologies, communities are prepared and equipped to confront the challenges they will face in the future as they continue on their transformational journey.