This month the world marks two key International Days: for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October and for Disaster Reduction, four days earlier. It is no coincidence that they are profoundly connected.
Reducing risks related to disasters has never been so urgent—and the Latin America and the Caribbean region bears witness to this. Seven hurricanes have hit the Caribbean in the past five months, two of them as category 5, causing catastrophic damage, including in island nations that were barely recovering from another massive hurricane that struck one year ago. Also, two earthquakes rocked Mexico in September—with almost 5.000 aftershocks—while another powerful quake struck Ecuador in April 2016. In addition, both Colombia and Peru suffered major landslides in the past eight months.
The number of children, women and men killed is deeply saddening, especially in an era in which we have the knowledge to minimize loss of lives due to natural events. Yet, we keep experiencing tragedies. The fact is that natural disasters do not exist. Such phenomena become disasters when people, communities and societies are vulnerable to them. This, in turn, translates into losses—of lives and assets. And the poorest are the hardest hit.
On the one hand, poverty reduces people’s capacity to face and recover from disasters; on the other hand, disasters also hinder people’s ability to leave poverty behind.
That’s why if the world is to end poverty in all its forms by 2030 we must also boost resilience—in all its forms. This means the capacity to cope with shocks without major economic, social and environmental setbacks. A disaster of natural causes, a financial crisis, an economic slowdown or a health problem in the family can all cause people to fall into poverty—especially those who barely managed to leave it behind, as one of our recent UNDP report shows; unless a ‘cushion’ is in place to help absorb the impact, such as social protection systems or physical assets.