No Accident: Resilience and the inequality of risk | Climate Resilience

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A new international emphasis on building resilience offers real promise to allow the poorest women and men to cope with, and ultimately thrive, in the face of shocks, stresses, and uncertainty. But only if risk is more equally shared globally and across societies - this will require a major shift in our approach to poverty reduction and fundamentally challenging the inequality that exposes poor people to far more risk than the rich. In this paper, Oxfam calls on governments and aid agencies to tackle the politics and power at the heart of the increasing effects of climate change, rising inequality and people
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  172 OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER 21 MAY 2013 www.oxfam.org  People in a waterside house raised on stilts in a slum in Manila. © Robin Hammond / Panos NO ACCIDENT Resilience and the inequality of risk We need a new approach to risk and poverty reduction. Major external risks, such as climate change and food price volatility, are increasing faster than attempts to reduce them. Many risks are dumped on poor people, and women face an overwhelming burden. In many places of recurrent crises, the response of governments and the international aid sector is not good enough. A new focus on building resilience offers real promise to allow the poorest women and men to thrive despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty  –  but only if risk is more equally shared globally and across societies. This will require a major shift in development work, which for too long has avoided dealing with risk. More fundamentally, it will require challenging the inequality that exposes poor people to far more risk than the rich.  2 FOREWORD Risk is increasing dramatically: food prices are more volatile than ever before; the number of weather-related disasters has tripled in 30 years; climate change has been shown to be a key factor in disasters, such as the Horn of Africa drought; the numbers of people exposed to flooding has doubled since 1970; and 100 million people are pushed into poverty each year because they have to pay for health care. This is a very worrying trajectory. Part of the response has been a focus on building people ‟s resilience to shocks and stresses. Whilst welcome, there is a real danger that this debate will not deliver much for poor people because the approach taken, to date, is too technical. Reducing vulnerability can only be done through addressing inequality and power. Wealth is increasing, but so is inequality, and many people are being completely left behind. This report shows clearly that vulnerability  –  to climate change, natural hazards, and insecurity  –  is higher in countries with greater income inequality. Inequality makes it so much harder for poor people to work their way out of poverty and risk. In some cases, risk is dumped on poor people: rich countries fuel climate change, but poor countries suffer the consequences; big business makes profit without care for people displaced or disrupted; governments support economic growth without also supporting social justice and sustainability; and property laws and unjust care systems mean that women cannot fulfil their full potential.  A key solution is to redistribute risk. Rich countries need to take responsibility and pay for the consequences of the risks they create elsewhere. Poor people need greater access to decision-making and to be better protected through greater access to services  –  like social protection and health  –  paid for by more progressive taxes. Crises undermine, obstruct and derail development  –  the economic and social cost of disasters is rocketing and 1.5 billion people live in places so insecure that each day is a struggle  –  so risk is not  just a humanitarian problem. Development work  –  of governments, the aid sector and the international community through the Millennium Development Goals  –  must aim to reduce risk and inequality as well as support growth. One without the other will not succeed. People‟s own determination to get out of poverty should be matched by our commitment to redistribute risk and build equality, thereby supporting them to thrive and prosper, rather than just cope and survive in a world of increasing risks. HE Ellen Johnson Sirleaf President of Liberia     3 SUMMARY  Around the world, poor women and men face a relentless series of shocks and stresses. Inequality, in all its ugly guises, is what turns risk from these shocks and stresses into a rising tide of avoidable suffering, and drives millions of people deeper into crisis and poverty. Systemic shocks, such as food price hikes and „ natural ‟  disasters, and long-term stresses like climate change, environmental degradation and protracted conflicts, undermine ind ividuals‟ ability to cope. And these are on the rise. Since 1970, the number of people exposed to floods and tropical cyclones has doubled. 1  The latest climate science indicates that global warming far beyond 2ºC is increasingly likely, and that even a 2ºC warming will have far worse consequences than expected just a few years ago. 2 In the past few years, volatility in food and commodity prices has returned, and more than 1.5 billion people now live in countries that face repeated cycles of violence. 3  The impact of these increasing systemic shocks exacerbate the life-cycle shocks to income felt at household level  –  such as widowhood, childbirth, and unexpected illness  –  which hit women the hardest. The inequality of risk None of the consequences of these shocks and stresses are equal. Poor people and poor countries suffer immeasurably more than others. In relative terms, the financial impact of disasters is far higher in developing countries. For example, South Asia suffers flood losses that are 15 times greater, as a percentage of GDP, than OECD countries. Those who are hit hardest are always the poorest, because they do not have access to welfare or social protection schemes, insurance, or „something in the kitty‟  to help them withstand an emergency. Nor do they have the political voice to demand that their governments, private companies, or the international community do anything about this. The political exclusion of the poorest people means that they are least able to demand their rights. Inequality is hardwired into crises. Almost anyone who is marginalised  –  because of their caste, colour, class, age, ability or gender  –  will likely suffer from shocks more than anyone else. The endemic discrimination that women face  –  in education, health care, employment, and control of property  –  inevitably makes them more vulnerable. 97 per cent of people on low incomes have no insurance cover, 4  and 90 per cent of workers in least developed countries have no social security, 5  which leaves them highly vulnerable to major risk or financial shock.  4 Risk is dumped on the poor Extreme inequality of wealth and power is driving national and international policies that shelter the rich from risk, and pass it down to the poor and powerless. Power and wealth allow some people, corporations, and governments to mitigate the risks they face   while directly or indirectly dumping those risks on people with far less capacity to cope. For example, food trading companies and banks have opposed measures that could help governments anticipate food shocks, with disastrous impacts on poor people struggling to afford even basic foodstuffs. 7   The richest 11 per cent of the world‟s population create around half of all carbon emissions, but suffer the least from the harmful consequences of climate change. At the national level, commerical agriculture around rivers in the drylands of Ethiopia and Kenya means that pastoralists cannot reach water for their cattle, putting their livelihoods in danger. 8   A new approach to poverty and risk reduction Recent crises  –  such as the global food price hikes of 2008, Pakistan‟s floods in 2010 and 2011 , and the recurring droughts of the past few years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region of West Africa  –  have been a wake-up call. It is clear now that the response from both governments and the aid sector to increasing risk and structural inequalities is failing the most vulnerable. These problems cannot be solved by more „development -as- usual.‟  Both government investment and development aid, in practice, often fail to support the poorest people enough. Government support favours agribusiness over small-scale farmers, but benefits often fail to trickle down. Development aid has often been blind to the shocks and uncertainties that poor people face, and naïve in assuming that development takes place in largely stable environments. That is not the real world  –  where, by 2015, half of all people living on less than $1.25 a day will be in „ fragile states ‟  or affected by conflict, 9  and millions more will face disasters from global economic or environmental changes outside of their control. Real resilience Women and men should not just be able to cope with crises, but to realise their rights so that they have hope for the future, have choices about how to live their lives, and can adapt to change. The ambition must not just be to help people survive  one shock after another, but to help them thrive  despite shocks, stresses, and uncertainty. But if building resilience is now on the agenda of national governments, donors, aid agencies and civil society, this must go beyond the dry, technical fixes that have dominated the discussion so far. Building skills and capacity must go alongside tackling the inequality and injustice that make poor women and men more vulnerable in the first place. This means challenging the social, economic, and political institutions that lock in security for some, 150 million people per year face financial catastrophe because of health costs. 6  
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