On the Record
- The occurrence of natural hazards increased by about three times from 1977 to 2007
- The people least responsible for climate change – the poorest people in developing nations – are already affected the most by these disasters
- Humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross and the World Health Organization, are closely monitoring climate change and how to respond to the impacts of more frequent and intense natural disasters
The Climate Connection
Storms, floods, and droughts have increased threefold over the past 30 years due to climate change. People in developing nations are extremely vulnerable to these changes because they often do not have the means to adapt. The humanitarian community is already responding to the impacts of more frequent and intense natural disasters.
More extreme temperatures will make diseases spread by insects and vectors more common. Cholera, malaria, and dengue fever, are associated with extreme heat, while frostbite is associated with extreme cold. Adverse effects on mental health are also associated with natural disasters. When disasters threaten people and property, survivors become more susceptible to anxiety, stress, depression and PTSD. The World Health Organization provides climate adaptation resources for health providers.
Food & Water Supplies
Climate change is causing longer, more frequent droughts in some regions of the world, including the American Southwest. Drought could threaten the livelihoods of over 1 billion people in more than 110 countries. Both drought and extreme flooding due to climate change reduce the productivity of staple crops such as wheat, maize, and rice to feed the world’s people. The Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security estimates a 5.4% loss in crop yield per degree Celsius of global temperature increase. In 2011, heat-related agricultural losses in the United States exceeded $1 billion.
Due to drought and water scarcity, competition for scarce resources can put national security at risk. Existing conflicts and social strife among ethnic groups could be amplified, leading to wars over water. Iraq, Syria, and Turkey are already in conflict over allocations of water from the nearby rivers. Tensions in the Middle East, Darfur, and Sri Lanka may also be exacerbated between ethnic groups because of climate change. Deterioration of the Euphrates river has resulted in increased food costs and mass migrations, which has already led to more social tension. According to an American Security Project report, climate change is expected to increase levels of illegal immigration due to climate change and its impacts in Latin America.
Floods are the most common type of natural disaster worldwide and kill more people than any other type of natural disaster in the United States. Inland communities are at risk of flooding due to more intense storms and snowmelt. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey property losses in Texas amounted to an estimated $65-$75 billion. Coastal communities are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise. 350,000 homes in the United States will be at risk of flooding due to sea level rise by 2050. When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, the nearly 9,000 American Red Cross volunteers provided assistance and shelter to survivors who had lost their homes.
Floods, droughts, and crop failure will force people to move away from their homes, either voluntarily or by coercion. Guatemalan farmers crossed the U.S. border to escape starvation in 2014 when a drought wiped out their beans and maize. Central America is vulnerable to hurricanes on both sides, and migrants flee to the United States as a result of their homes and farmland being destroyed by hurricanes, floods, and droughts. U.S. indigenous people are also especially vulnerable to climate change, as they have a close relationship with the environment and the natural resources of their native land. People in the Himalayas, Amazon, and Arctic will struggle to support their food systems and local economies as global temperatures rise. In the next decade, there will be an estimated 50 million environmental refugees who can no longer reside and grow food where they currently live.
Off the Press
The UN Refugee Agency
Climate Change and Disasters
Before The Next Disaster Strikes
The UN Refugee Agency
Climate Change and Disasters
- United Nations. The Humanitarian Impact Of Climate Change. https://unchronicle.un.org/article/next-disaster-strikes-humanitarian-impact-climate-change (2007)
- American Security Project. Climate Change and Immigration: Warnings for America’s Southern Border. https://www.americansecurityproject.org/climate-change-and-immigration-warnings-for-americas-southern-border/ (2010)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea Level Rise Facts. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html (Accessed: December 2018)
- Climate Central. Ocean at the Door: New Homes and the Rising Sea http://www.climatecentral.org/news/ocean-at-the-door-new-homes-in-harms-way-zillow-analysis-21953 (Accessed: Decembre 2018)
- U.S. Global Change Research Program. National Climate Assessment. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/human-health (2014)
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