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The Group Most Affected by Freak Weather

Last month I was in India where the people of Chennai were whacked with the worst flooding in 100 years. Hundreds died. Many more lost their homes and small businesses.

Facebook asked me if I was alright. Thanks Mark Z. Glad to know you care mate.

Every year during the rainy season, most of the slums in Phnom Penh are flooded with overflowing rivers and sewers. People literally live with a foot of dank black water in their home. They perch on wooden beds, continuing as if there weren't liquid feces floating around their feet. 

And there is a common denominator in terms of WHO is most severely impacted in all of this abominable weather: the poor and marginalized - our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.

Here are 10 ways those living in poverty are more deeply affected:

1. Your ability to flee is crippled

Those of us with cash in our pockets have a few more options up our sleeves. We can afford to flee the coming wrath of the heavens. We can buy the gas needed to fill up the car (that we own, and that actually works because we bought a decent one). 

We can afford accommodation elsewhere. 

But if you're already struggling, you're less likely to have the means of transportation or the money to grab a train somewhere else.

So you end up STUCK. Right where you and your family definitely don't want to be. 

2. The weakest are most vulnerable when the storm hits

The elderly man left alone during a heatwave. The single mother home with small kids during a snowstorm. The disabled woman trapped in flooding. The bedridden sickness beneficiary stuck without medicine during a tornado. These are some of the vulnerable groups that feel the brunt of climate change and freak weather. They are the most likely to suffer during and after the event - and the least likely to be able to afford to get help.

3. Your income is interrupted

Now imagine you are living hand to mouth. The money you earn that day, is what goes to feed your kids that night. Any disruption to the way you earn that cash - say because of vicious storms or snow or floods - means you don't eat. And your children don't eat. Any extra cost is a burden heaped upon a burden that was already too heavy to carry.

4. You live on crappy land

On top of that, the poor are MUCH more likely to be living on marginal land. For a while, I lived in a bustling slum on the edge of the broad brown sewer that is the Mekong river. No-one else would live there because every year the river rose a little higher and swept away a few more homes. Kids would occasionally lose their footing and be washed away - to the devastation and distress of their families.

The house with blue windows in the photo above was our second home in this slum, built over a sewer canal. Eventually we were all evicted to make way for an overpass. 

5. Your livelihood is more insecure

The poor are also less likely to be dressing in an Armani suit and working in a tall glass office building each day.... 

I know - major insight huh.

Nope - instead they are the ones toiling in the fields, reliant on good weather for their crops to grow. Freak weather wreaks havoc with their income and livelihoods, because agricultural work is extremely reliant on the climate.

Scientific studies suggest that rising temperatures could lead to 5 percent of crop yields failing by 2030. In Africa, that level could be as high as 12 percent.

6. Food prices skyrocket

All this bad weather ruining the harvests has another flow-on effect - higher food prices. Which affects - you guessed it - the poor, who typically spend upwards of 60% of their income on food. While we rich folks typically spend only about 10%.

7. Sickness hits you harder

According to the World Bank, just a small rise in temperatures due to climate change “could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by up to 5 percent." That's about 150 million more people affected. They're going to have more diarrhea because there is less clean water around, affecting everything from hygiene to dirty water-borne diseases.

8. You're more likely to be sent into a war over resources

Now this one might seem a bit dramatic, but frankly wars are already happening over scarce resources. And guess who gets sent off to fight in these wars as cannon fodder? No, it's not the George Bushes and other elites of the world. It is most often our poorest brothers and sisters who have no other options. They form the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground troops fighting at the front lines.

9. Your reliance on public infrastructure makes you even more vulnerable

When train services are suspended, schools closed, or water cut off - it is always the poorest members of society who are least equipped to pay for alternatives. Where is the single mother going to find money for a babysitter if school is closed for the day and she has to go to work? How is the slum dweller going to get to his job if the buses are cancelled for the day? 

10. It's harder to bounce back

Finally, if you have resources it's easier to replace what you lose to a freak weather event. You can pay for the carpet to be cleaned, and that favorite green sofa from Ikea to be replaced. If you;re lucky, you might have insurance to cover the costs.

But all this is beyond the reach of most of those struggling to get by on a dollar or two a day. Insurance is mostly unheard of in the slums and rural villages of the developing world. 

Ironically, the climate change that is driving much of the freak weather these days is mostly caused by the rich, developed nations of the world - the very people with the resources to avoid its worst effects.

This is a serious issue of justice for our brothers and sisters living in poverty. If the second greatest commandment Jesus taught is to love our neighbor as ourselves, we've got some thinking to do about how we address not only poverty, but climate change as well.

So start shoveling. There's work to be done.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Craig Greenfield's blog in January 2016. It has been reposted here with permission from the author. Thanks Craig! 


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