The Link Between the Environment and Poverty
We are intricately connected to our world. We receive food and water from it. It provides a livelihood for many, and it contributes to our prosperity and well-being. Our behavior affects our environment, which in turn affects our behavior.
In recent decades we have begun to better understand the intricate connection we have to our environment, that environmental sustainability is intertwined with social and economic sustainability and how this connection is particularly sharp for the poor.
Poverty often causes the poor to put pressure on their environment, and in turn the environment contributes to the suffering the poor endure. High mortality rates and insecurity in old age contribute to larger families. Overcrowded urban areas where millions of the poor live in slum conditions increase the risk of disease and violence. Limited access to sanitation and clean water lead to poor hygiene practices and more disease, which hinder the ability of the poor to work or attend school. And when nature strikes, the poor suffer disproportionately.
In 2015 the World Bank reported that nine percent of the world’s disaster events since 1980 occurred in low-income countries. But these countries experienced 48 percent of the deaths.
Damage to the environment increases the impact floods and other natural disasters have, and the poor bear the brunt. "Natural disasters" are as much a result of poor government, bad infrastructure, population density, and unequal living conditions as anything else. Poverty helps create a disaster.
In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami; killed 230,000 people. All of them were in lower middle-income countries (e.g., Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, etc.). In 2011, a similar magnitude earthquake spawned a tsunami that struck high income Japan. The waves were 30 feet taller than the Indian Ocean tsunami, but only 19,000 people died. Poverty was the difference in the death toll.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 killed 223,000 people. Equally forceful earthquakes hit Chile and New Zealand later that same year. Five hundred people died in Chile, and no deaths occurred in New Zealand. Poverty caused the difference.