Poverty overlooked in climate change debate


For Mozambique, this deadly combination of floods, drought and cyclone represent a significant blow to a nation that was on the path toward economic recovery.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, after years of brutal civil war, Mozambique experienced an economic growth spurt of about 8 per cent. The future looked positive for one of the world’s poorest countries.

However massive floods in 2000 and 2001, which killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, together with the latest floods in the centre of the country and severe drought in the south now threaten the country’s recovery.

Mozambique’s plight highlights the fragility of poor communities and reflects their inability to cope with shocks such as extreme weather.

In contrast to developed countries, poor nations hit by disasters experience greater suffering, higher death tolls and a much slower and more problematic relief and rebuilding effort.

Poor infrastructure such as crumbling roads and airports, derelict buildings, a lack of adequate health facilities, and the lack of ‘early warning systems’ are just some of the factors that exacerbate the plight of poor nations.

And while floods and drought have been a natural makeup of the world’s weather patterns throughout the years, climate change is exacerbating extreme weather patterns leading to greater intensity and more frequency.

Floods and droughts that use to occur once every 10 to 20 years, are now occurring every three to four years, diminishing a community’s resilience and leaving little time to prepare for potential future environmental shocks.

World Vision has launched an appeal to meet the immediate needs of those people impacted by the flooding in Mozambique. We are providing food, mosquito nets, water and sanitation facilities. To address the specific needs of children, Child Friendly Spaces will be set up and World Vision will collaborate with UNICEF to ensure that schools have adequate supplies.

World Vision will also provide tools and maize seeds to 5000 families to contribute to greater food security. This will allow displaced families to make the most of the planting season in early April as the rainy season ends and the river recedes.

Australians have already proven how generous they can be when they are confronted by terrible scenes of suffering off our shores. The Asian Tsunami showed we could be among the most generous nations in the world.

But amid the dire warnings coming from scientists about Climate Change it appears such natural disasters will become more frequent and will have greater impact, especially in poor communities. It is tragic that communities in low-income countries now loom as the biggest victims of it.

A CSIRO report, jointly commissioned by World Vision, recently warned that temperature increases in the Asia Pacific region would put millions of lives at risk of dengue fever, malaria and other infectious diseases while more people would be killed as a result of increased flooding and tropical cyclones.

It argued that local and regional economies would be hit hard from chronic food and water insecurity and epidemic diseases caused by extreme weather events, for instance Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Product could drop by as much as 2.4 per cent with less than a two degrees Celsius warming.

We need to take steps now to tackle climate change, or our efforts to end poverty will be drastically undermined and Australia could be inundated with millions of climate change refugees.

While it is crucial we find a global political solution to tackle climate change such as initiatives to cut greenhouse emissions, we must also boost our efforts to help the more than 1 billion people who are trapped in chronic poverty in our world today. This is a message that is too often lost amid the debate over Climate Change.

Despite all our technology, resources and wealth, 30,000 children still die each day because of poverty and preventable disease.

But while individual Australians can be proud of the amount they give to developing nations, the Australian Government’s giving compares much more poorly.

When it comes to giving to overseas aid organisations individual Australian’s are the second most generous nation on the globe.

In comparison, the Australian Government ranks 19 out of 22 rich nations for the amount of government aid given as a proportion of gross national income (GNI). Between 1996 and 2007, the Government gave $4.5 billion less to aid than they would have if they maintained the same levels as when they came to power.

Since 1969, most countries, Australia included, have repeatedly promised to give 0.7 per cent of GNI in overseas aid. The Prime Minister’s announcement in 2005 to double overseas aid will still only take us to 0.36 per cent of GNI.

If we provided greater assistance, greater emergency aid and more general assistance such as crop development, we could help the communities that live in extreme poverty prepare for extreme weather patterns.

For millions of people living in poor communities the decisions we make can mean the difference between surviving or dying especially as our climate increasingly turns hostile.

Tim Costello is chief executive of World Vision Australia.

© 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright information: http://abc.net.au/common/copyrigh.htm

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