Natural Disasters and Income Inequality

Natural Disasters and Income Inequality

While much of the discussion surrounding economic disparity and natural disasters pertains to the affluent/low-income country dichotomy, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Wollongong assert that this issue needs to be regarded as geographically inclusive. Countries all over the globe with wide varieties of GDP ratings should look more closely at the demographics of social vulnerability within their borders. Past disasters from Sri Lanka to Tokyo have seen those residing in poverty facing a disproportionately large number of severe effects caused by a disaster. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., those in a “socio-economically disadvantaged household” were also impacted in a more statistically significant way as opposed to their demographically advantaged counterparts. In the months following the storm, the Congressional Research Service released a report estimating that a fifth of those displaced by the storm were poor and that “30% had incomes that were below 1 ½ times the poverty line."

Research suggests that those in poverty within the U.S. could continue to face disproportionate risk in disaster situations. Four researchers from universities across the country have gathered data used to assess the effects of disasters, and particularly severe disasters, on the migration patterns of socio-economically divergent groups throughout the nation.  The numbers given by county show that after sever and super-severe disasters, residents with more financial resources have a higher likelihood of moving away than those closer to the poverty line. In effect, this could mean that more affluent citizens are distancing themselves from the risk of disaster, while those left behind in disaster-prone areas have less socio-economic resources to improve infrastructure and develop prevention mechanisms.  

Data suggests that post-disaster displacement can have significant impacts on the population of a region due to the sheer numbers of people fleeing an affected area. Researchers have found that an occurrence of two natural disasters will correspond to the loss of 600 residents in a single county.  Just one large-scale disaster, characterized as being responsible for 100 or more deaths, will bring about the movement of 1,200 residents on average away from the county.  This doubling effect was observed as a consequence of Hurricane Katrina, after which the population decreased by about 250,000 residents from 2000 to 2006. 

To discuss the impact of disasters and how to build a culture of resilience and risk awareness, join the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit on September 6-7 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Centre in Washington D.C. The Summit will gather industry experts to share best practice and technology to enhance disaster preparedness and strengthen disaster management capacities. Participants will also look into how to manage climate-related disaster risks more effectively and technological innovations used to better reach and engage communities.

  • Akshat Vishal Chaturvedi, Senior Advisor, Disaster Risk Management, World Bank
  • Jacqueline Bass, Director Livelihoods, Social and Economic Development (SED), FHI360
  • George Sullivan, Regional Director, CPRS, American Red Cross 
  • Richard Leach, President and CEO, World Food Program USA
  • Kieth Kall, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships, World Vision
  • David Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Rescue Global
  • Dr Joe Leitmann, Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist, Team Leader, Resilient Recovery and Urban Resilience, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank Group
  • Isaac Kwamy, Director, Global Programs, Humanitarian Disaster Management, NETHOPE
  • Adefela Adelekan, Senior Manager, Disaster Response Programme, GSMA

See the full list of confirmed speakers at our conference website:

See the full agenda here:

To learn more about disaster-related issues and take action to make a difference, email Alina O’Keeffe at with a request for participation.

Image source: Facing South

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