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Building the resilience of the poor in Ethiopia and worldwide

Fewer than one in ten workers in least developed countries have any kind of social security, so when weather disasters or ill-health strike, the poor are extremely vulnerable.

The Oklahoma tornado and cyclone in Bangladesh are recent examples of weather-related disasters which have brought devastation to local communities. According to weather experts, the number of such natural disasters has tripled in the last three decades, exposing millions more people to droughts, floods and storms. And the situation is predicted to worsen with climate change.

A new report published by Oxfam this week – ‘No accident: Resilence and the inequality of risk’ – highlights how it’s the poorest people across the globe who suffer worst from weather-related disasters. With few people in developing countries having any kind of insurance or access to welfare or protection schemes, damage caused by weather events frequently requires them to spend any money they have saved or sell possessions. This leaves them even more vulnerable to future shocks.

At the beginning of the report, Oxfam gives the example of 30 year-old Qaballe Sirba, who lives in southern Ethiopia in a region hit by severe drought. In recent years, the mother of two has had to cope with sick children and the breadwinner of the family, her husband, being paralysed by a fall. The drought and food crisis of 2008 left the family surviving on just one meal each day.

This story reflects the experiences of millions of poor women and men in developing countries, who have to confront one setback after another. The report calls for governments and agencies to do more to reduce inequality and share the burden of disasters across societies and countries, particularly when it’s wealthy nations fuelling climate change. Despite immense challenges, poor people work hard to get out of poverty and sometimes need just a small helping hand.

In Ethiopia, an example of this kind of help is a small micro-insurance scheme, which was piloted from 2007 with local communities and the government in the drought-prone region of Tigray. Due to its success in assisting poor farmers to recover after poor harvests, the scheme is being expanded further and is now called the ‘R4 Rural Initiative’. An ‘insurance-for-work’ programme also allows farmers to pay for cover through labour, rather than with money. (Their labour is used in smallscale community public works such as improved irrigation or soil management schemes.) Then, if rainfall drops to a certain drought level in any given year, insurance pay-outs are triggered.

Studies show this simple scheme gives men and women in a vulnerable region of Ethiopia more options and less worry for the future. The Oxfam report puts it simply – “in other words, they have hope”.

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