Oxfam International’s Jacobo Ocharan shares his insights as a disaster risk reduction manager, regarding the overlap between poverty and preparedness
That poverty impacts storm preparedness is a given. While the chances of a hurricane striking Florida or Jamaica are the same, the chances for disaster are far greater in Jamaica due to poverty.
Poor nations and poor people are more vulnerable to severe storms because the infrastructures of their societies are weaker, whether we’re talking about roads or homes. Take homes for example. Stilts are important architectural features for homes in coastal zones, but few economically poor people can afford them.
Indeed, if you are struggling to meet basic needs like food and shelter, you do not have the money to invest in preparation materials like extra stores of water, flashlights, and batteries. This lack of money for individual preparation needs is exacerbated in poor nations, by lack of personal vehicles, safe and reliable mass transit and good roads.
A family who struggles to pay the doctor for today’s sickness will not buy extra batteries for a future storm.
Extrapolate this pattern to a nation. Take India, for example, where 25% of the population lives in abject poverty (in the US, it’s 12%).
They’ve invested billions in bolstering the agricultural sector to address hunger. While hurricanes are a problem there too, the focus of their national policies since the 1950s has been addressing basic needs like food and shelter. Only now has disaster preparedness appeared on the national policy radar because they understand that as the second layer of development.
The relationship between poverty and disaster preparedness is so strong, organizations like Oxfam have integrated preparedness into our development models. We understand that before families can use their money to prepare for future storms, they must address basic needs like: work, clean water/food, shelter, and education. Instead of delaying or discarding preparedness programs, we’re implementing anti-poverty and preparedness services at the same time.
For instance, education is a basic infrastructural need in all nations. In poor nations, instead of waiting for thriving schools before thinking about disaster preparedness work, we’re considering preparedness from the start. We’re asking questions like: “Is the school near a river?” If so, we add features that protect the building from floods. While designing the school’s curriculum, we include lessons about what to do in case of a flood. This is a simple way to accomplish development and risk reduction goals at the same time, at no extra cost.