A new study by Christian Aid has revealed that the economic impact of disasters is stacked against the poor.
Its report Counting the Cost 2023 identifies the year's 20 costliest extreme climate disasters by per capita cost – and the organisation is calling for more climate finance to be invested in early warning and early action.
The study’s top 20 list of the costliest extreme disasters of 2023 across a range of 14 countries shows that some countries – through size, geography or other factors – are more prone to experience disasters.
The charity found the highest per capita cost of natural disasters was the wildfires which affected Hawaii in August. The cost of these wildfires averages over $4,000 per person. This is far beyond the second costliest per capita, Guam’s storms in May, which cost almost $1,500 per head of population. Peru had the lowest sum spent - $9 per person after floods.
Pointing to the “global postcode lottery”, Christian Aid explains disasters are worse for those countries which are unable to withstand them because of less resilient homes, where many people are employed in agriculture vulnerable to extreme weather, and places which lack government investment in prevention or rebuilding.
Cyclone Freddy, which features on the list, hit the population of Malawi in 2023. Mofolo Chikaonda, a widow aged 69 who comes from southern Malawi, explained “the worst negative impact of Cyclone Freddy that I shall never forget in my entire life is the destruction of the only house that we struggled to construct”
Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid’s Climate Justice Policy Advisor in Bangladesh, said: “Cyclone Freddy was a reminder that communities who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the worst. Loss and damage costs are in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually in developing countries alone. Wealthy nations must commit the new and additional money required to ensure the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP28 can be quickly get help to those that need it most.”
No corner of the globe was spared in 2023 with all six populated continents represented in the list. Even large countries with big populations feature. USA, China and Mexico all have populations of more than 100 million, yet experienced disasters which cost tens of dollars per head of population, meaning billions of dollars at the national level.
Chief Executive of Christian Aid, Patrick Watt, said:
"With 2023 the hottest year on record, the effects of climate change are more obvious than ever before.
"The human cost of the climate crisis is seen increasingly in homes washed away and lives ended by floods and storms, and crops and livestock lost to drought. This year was once again devastating if you happened to live in a climate vulnerable country.
“While some disasters make the headlines, like the wildfires in Hawaii, in many cases devastating climate-related disasters pass unnoticed by the wider world.
“When it comes to the climate crisis, there is a global postcode lottery that is stacked against the poor. In poorer countries, people are often less prepared for climate-related disasters and have fewer resources with which to bounce back. The upshot is that more people die, and recovery is slower and more unequal. There is a double injustice in the fact that the communities worst affected by global warming have contributed little to the problem.
“Governments urgently need to take further action at home and internationally, to cut emissions, and adapt to the effects of climate change. And where the impacts go beyond what people can adapt to, the loss and damage fund must be resourced to compensate the poorest countries for the effects of a crisis that isn’t of their making.”
More details can be found at https://www.christianaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-12/counting-the-cost-2022.pdf