What is it about?

Natural disasters have become more recurrent globally since the 1970s and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions will further amplify their effects. Given the devastating impact of these disasters on societies, it is imperative to understand how the associated hazards and socioeconomic vulnerability to disasters can be minimized. Not all societies, however, are affected equally by natural disasters. Studies have assessed whether the associated damages are worse for countries with higher income inequality and whether more egalitarian countries are better protected against these hazards. In a new study, authors assessed both the impact of climate change-induced disasters on economic inequality and the effect inequality has on society’s vulnerability towards natural disasters. To do this, they adopted a mathematical approach and considered post-disaster scenarios for 149 countries between 1992 and 2018. The analysis revealed that countries with greater income inequality were associated with a higher toll on human lives, which, in turn, widened the inequality gap even more. With repeated disasters, this led to what the authors called a ‘disaster-inequality trap.’

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Why is it important?

Increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities has caused natural disasters to occur more frequently and with greater intensity. Although these events are beyond our control, we can take steps to minimize damages caused by them. This study examines how these natural disasters and income inequality affect each other, calling for a broader understanding of these disasters as a combination of climatic and socioeconomic factors. This, in turn, could inform policies to grant more equitable access to preventive and recovery measures. KEY TAKEAWAY Countries with high income inequality are the most affected by natural disasters, which, in turn, aggravates the inequality gap. This creates a vicious circle of ‘disaster-inequality trap.’ Understanding this is crucial to formulating more equitable post-disaster recovery policies.

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This page is a summary of: The trap of climate change-induced “natural” disasters and inequality, Global Environmental Change, September 2021, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102329.
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