Whether a natural disaster arrives in the form of an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, or hurricane, it is almost guaranteed that the poor will suffer from the aftereffects of the incident much more than wealthier individuals. This is due in part to the fact that individuals living in poverty often lack the resources that would help them effectively prepare for natural disasters. The aftermath of these incidents also has a greater effect on the poor, and many are left financially unable to cope with the situation.
Many Fail to Receive Weather Warnings
Although the poor in industrialized countries certainly cannot be considered lucky, they do have a slight advantage over individuals in less technologically progressed areas. If a natural disaster is on the way, people in industrialized areas are notified of that fact ahead of time and often given instructions to either evacuate the area or instructions on how to weather the storm.
Families living in the so called “third-world”, however, often have no knowledge that a natural disaster is on its way until the storm actually arrives. If they are notified, they are notified far too late to leave the area or adequately prepare themselves and their homes for nature’s onslaught.
Unfortunately, what little advantage the industrialized world’s poor have by early notification of natural disasters is frequently negated by their inability to do anything to protect themselves and their families. It seems confusing to some why people in the path of an impending disaster do not evacuate, but for those without personal transportation or access to public transportation, evacuation is not an option.
The Poor Are More Likely to Live in Areas That Lack Fortification
Most buildings constructed today are built with potential natural disasters in mind. Skyscrapers have flexible beams that allow them to sway with an earthquake while many states require all newly built public structures to comply with strict building codes. Unfortunately, the poor are far more likely to live in older structures that were built before state building codes became mandatory.
When a natural disaster strikes, therefore, the poor suffer much greater consequences than wealthy and middle-class citizens. Their homes are simply not able to withstand gale-force winds and earthquakes. This can result in the poorer district of a city being leveled while the newer districts remain relatively unaffected.
Living conditions in many areas of the world are even worse and contribute directly to high fatalities as a result of natural disasters. For example, in 1999 over 30,000 people were killed by mudslides in Caracas, Venezuela. These same people might have been safe had they not been forced to live in small dugouts in the sides of mountains. Heavy rainfall flooded the surrounding areas and the mountainside villages were subsequently buried by the mudslides that followed. This incident would not have occurred had more residents of Caracas had access to adequate housing.
Being Cash-Strapped with Bad Credit Makes Disaster Recovery a Challenge
When a middle-class individual loses his home or belongings to a natural disaster, he may suffer extreme hardship, but he often has the option of filing a claim with his insurance company. Although he may not recover the full value of the items that were lost, he is guaranteed financial assistance provided he has paid his necessary premiums on time every month. The poor can often not afford to pay monthly insurance premiums and thus have nothing to fall back on when disaster strikes.
Low income and credit scores seem to be directly proportional for obvious reasons. Many people in this group have insufficient credit and lack disposable cash. This makes the aftermath of a natural disaster dire and highly stressful. Not only can they not afford to replace their belongings, they cannot afford to feed and clothe themselves and their children until they can find a semi-permanent place to stay.
Federal loan programs, however flawed they may be, do provide a measure of relief to families left financially bereft by natural disasters. For those in poverty-ridden areas of the world that do not receive federal aid in times of crisis, a natural disaster can leave a previously struggling family desperate for necessities.
A 2008 report from the United Nations illustrates just how much of a challenge natural disasters present to developing countries. Of the 262 million individuals affected in 2007 and 2008 by natural disasters, 98% of those people resided in developing nations. If a country does not have an aid program in place, disaster victims may be forced to wait for extended periods for more developed nations to organize a disaster relief effort.
Early warning systems are vital to preserving life, but it often takes a disaster before an early warning system is put into practice. For example, the deadly earthquake that killed over 200,000 people in Indonesia, India, Thailand, and other surrounding countries, on December 26, 2004, was the precursor for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System. Some natural disasters, such as tornadoes, can appear suddenly and leave little time to adequately warn citizens of the danger. While anyone can fall victim to a natural disaster, the poor are more likely to feel the negative effects of the disaster for years after the event is over due to their lack of physical and financial resources.