Natural disaster relief—the economics of climate change

Several Maryland National Guard units and local authorities assisted in evacuations of citizens in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Courtesy of The National Guard)

Several Maryland National Guard units and local authorities assisted in evacuations of citizens in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Courtesy of The National Guard)

Whichever side you take when it comes to global warming, there is no doubt that the economics of climate change are becoming increasingly significant. As more weather events, from hurricanes and typhoons to tsunamis and earthquakes, become more ferocious, the need for natural disaster relief will continue to increase. How will nations respond, and what is the long-term impact of these weather events, both on the planet and on the economy?

The cumulative effect

Researching the intersection between natural disasters and economics is an area rich with possibility. We hear about the major incidents, such as Typhoon Haiyan, but less so about the small events that affect fewer people or smaller areas. In Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis by Maxx Dilley, Robert S. Chen, Uwe Deichmann, Arthur L. Lerner-Lam, Margaret Arnold, Jonathan Agwe, Piet Buys, Oddvar Kjekstad, Bradfield Lyon and Gregory Yetman, available in full on Questia, research was compiled that shares information on where the risks of natural disasters are particularly high.

The authors state that “The cumulative effect of these smaller and medium-sized disasters have equally devastating impacts on developing countries: loss of development gains, torn communities, and increased impoverishment.” The immediate effects are certainly felt most strongly in the areas where the disasters occur, but over time, the world as a whole will feel the ripple effect.

Countries take action

Recognizing that developing countries may need more assistance when a natural disaster occurs, the United Nations recently offered a proposal by some Western nations that were appointed by a senior official, with $50 million in ready cash at his disposal, to coordinate the world’s response to floods, famines and other natural disasters, according to an article by Paul Lewis in The New York Times November 13, 2013, “Disaster Relief Proposal Worries Third World.”

Lewis reports, “The response of the third world was lukewarm at best and shot through with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility.” One of the major concerns raised by the third world countries was that the money would be out of the control of local communities and violate the sovereignty of the affected nation. Lewis quotes Ghana’s representative, Kofi N. Awoonor, “The United Nations must not be commandeered into forming an assistance brigade that will deliver its gifts by coercion.”

How to help

Developing nations may still want a say in how disaster relief is dispersed, but that will not halt the reality that people want to help when tragedy strikes. Natural disaster relief is something that nations, and individuals, feel compelled to offer when a major weather event occurs. Beyond the economics of climate change, the humanity of the issues is what compels people to want to help others.

Angela Mulholland posted November 16, 2013 to, “Philippines relief: The science of why we donate during disasters,” about why people want to give money in times of crisis. She writes, “Psychologists have long described a phenomenon called the “identifiable victim affect” to explain why images of devastation motivate many to send money to help.”

Mulholland cites a recent research study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study did brain scans of people looking at images of orphans in Darfur. It “revealed that the urge to donate money triggered parts of their brains that are associated with positive emotional responses. In other words, when the volunteers saw the photos, they anticipated having good feeling about offering to help.”

Whether your interest in natural disasters centers on the economic impact they have on a country and its people, or if you are focused on the reason why outsiders are promoted to donate money when such events happen, there are a range of topics to explore. And unfortunately, the future will most likely hold many more weather-related crises to study.

Want to learn more about natural disasters and their economic impact? Check out Questia—particularly the section on environmental and earth sciences and economics and business

Will the industrialized democracies force their aid rules on Third World countries? Should Western nations be doing more to help? Are there other economic issues involved in disaster relief? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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