Climate change affects everyone on the planet but the world’s poorest people already experience disproportionately severe and lasting effects.
Between 1990 and 1998, 94 percent of the world’s 568 major natural disasters and over 97 percent of all natural disaster-related deaths were in developing countries.
Poverty reduces people’s ability to cope with the type of severe shocks climate change is causing, such as droughts or floods. People living in poverty receive little warning of extreme weather conditions, are often housed in temporary shelter, are reliant on the land for their livelihoods, and have no savings to fall back on.
With more than one billion people living on less than $1 dollar (£0.60p) per day – the UN’s definition of extreme poverty – climate change threatens to seriously undermine recent progress in development.
Anna Nangolol lives in Turkana, Northwest Kenya. The Turkana people are pastoralists whose survival depends upon huge herds of cattle grazing on the dry savannah. Drought has continually plagued the region since 1999, the Turkana call this "kichutanak" meaning ‘it has swept away everything, even animals’.
Anna, whose name means ‘born at a river’ although she now lives on the banks of a dry riverbed, explains: “This drought has been very bad. Past droughts have been short and rains have come. This one seems never to finish and our goats and cattle are not multiplying.”
In Turkana, as in many parts of the world, climate change poses increased risks of conflict. The Turkana people, facing extreme hunger and severe water shortages due to droughts, are involved in violent disputes with other pastoralist groups over access to water.
The Turkana people do not have electricity, gas or central heating. They do not drive gas-guzzling vehicles or take holidays, let alone fly abroad for them. The Turkana people have an almost non-existent carbon footprint yet are suffering some of the worst impacts of climate change.
This is true the world over. The poor contribute least to climate change yet suffer the most. The average American is responsible for around 16,000 times as much carbon as the average Somali but Somalis are already about 100 times more likely to die as a result of climate change than Americans.
Climate change is a matter of economic global justice. Poor people living on the ‘front-line’ of climate-related disasters must be supported to withstand the effects of climate change while everyone (individuals, businesses and governments) must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further increases in extreme weather conditions.
Oxfam Campaigns, Birmingham
Note: Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be exploring the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest at the speaker event on Monday 5th February 7:30 p.m., Carrs Lane Church Centre. For more information, see our Speaker Events page.