More people in countries with low human development index suffer from climate-related disasters

Central America, the Caribbean, Eastern Africa, southern & eastern Asia have highest levels of impacts from climate-related disasters
Floods in Delhi as water from River Yamuna submerged its floodplains in the national capital in 2022. Photo : Vikas Choudhary / CSE
Floods in Delhi as water from River Yamuna submerged its floodplains in the national capital in 2022. Photo : Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Human development index of a country has an impact on how its population is impacted by climate-related disasters, and a new study showed how the relationship between the two.

Countries with high levels of human development had the lowest percentage of people impacted by climate-related disasters, the report published online in the journal International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction April 24, 2024. 

Countries with Human Development Index (HDI) lower than 0.78, had a higher impact, the findings showed. 

Likewise, the increasing number of the population impacted by climate-related disasters in countries with very high human development was statistically and significantly lower than in countries with high, medium and low human development. 

The cumulative percentages of the population impacted by climate-related disasters in European countries were notably lower compared to countries in Australia, Africa, North America, Asia and South America, the study found.

Countries in Africa showed an increase in people impacted by climate-related disasters through time, despite a decrease in the number of climate-related disaster events, according to the findings. 

The same holds true for countries in North America, which showed a decrease in the number of events through time. However, this has not resulted in any significant changes in the percentage of people impacted through time.

Countries with higher levels of human development have more resources to plan for climate-related disasters, and to warn and educate populations about risks, in addition to having populations with the needed resources to adapt and respond to climate change, the authors of the report observed. 

The study led by Camila I Donatti, Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science, US analysed the occurrence of climate-related disasters over 20 years (2000 and 2020) and illustrated how they are impacting populations across the world depending on their levels of human development.

Between 2000 and 2020, over 4,600 occurrences of climate-related disasters were documented, directly impacting over 3.3 billion people — equivalent to 44 per cent of the global population in 2020. Over 472,000 people died because of these events. 

The climate-related disasters that have impacted the highest number of people were droughts (over 1.4 billion people impacted), followed by riverine floods (over 1.2 billion people impacted) and tropical cyclones (over 501 million people impacted) between 2000 and 2020.

The analysis combined impacts from seven climate-related disasters: Tropical cyclones; droughts; flash flood; riverine flood; heatwaves; landslides and mudslides; wildfires. 

Highly developed countries experienced fewer impacts despite not having a lower number of climate-related events.

Eastern and central Mexico and the Caribbean, south of Guatemala, El Salvador, northwestern Colombia, central Bolivia, northeast of Brazil, eastern United States, western Senegal, Gambia, northern Mauritania, south of Niger and north of Nigeria, south Sudan, Eritrea, south of Mali and Burkina Faso, central Angola, Ethiopia, south of Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, southeastern and northern of South Africa, Lesotho and eastern Madagascar, eastern Portugal, central Georgia, Armenia, central Syria, India, most of Afghanistan and southern and eastern China, most of Thailand, central of Myanmar, southwestern of Cambodia, Vietnam, most of the Philippines and southern Japan were the most impacted areas.

The analyses showed the discrepancies among countries with differing levels of development, as well as discrepancies in the number of people impacted by climate-related disasters between African and European countries.

Nature-based solutions show way

Many countries in Africa and several with low levels of development in other regions have high percentages of populations suffering the most due to climate-related disasters.

The result is not surprising, as these countries often have fewer resources to plan, forecast, prevent and recover from impacts related to climate change. But in these countries, less costly alternatives and approaches can not only help people adapt to climate change but also lead to a variety of outcomes, such as the provision of alternative sources of income and building materials.

Nature-based solutions, actions that aim to restore, protect and manage nature to help people adapt to climate change, represent one of those approaches and it can be cost-effective too.

An example being the restoration and conservation of coastal habitats for protection from flooding and erosion. A comparison of costs of nature-based defence projects and engineering structures showed that salt-marshes and mangroves can be two to five times cheaper than a submerged breakwater for wave heights up to half a metre and, within their limits, become more cost effective at greater depths found a 2016 study published in PLOS One journal.

Another case study published in 2018 from the Gulf Coast of the United States compared the cost effectiveness of nature-based and coastal adaptation. Cost-effective adaptation measures could prevent up to $57-101 billion in losses, which represented 42.8-57.2 per cent of the total risk.

The protection of marshes in the Philippines have shown flooding prevention benefits in the same time providing positive ecological, social and mitigation outcomes and these measures could be implemented in areas that have experienced flooding impacts and where marshes naturally occur. 

Grazing management and the protection of savannas have shown to be effective in addressing droughts in countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe. The protection of grassland in Ethiopia has shown to be effective in reducing impacts from drought events. These outcomes lead to positive ecological and social outcomes.

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