Children in disaster-prone areas in India twice as likely to be living in poverty – new report

14 March 2019

Children in disaster-prone areas in India are twice as likely to be living in chronic poverty, and three times as likely to become impoverished, a major new study by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found.

The report, ‘Child poverty, disasters and climate change: Investigating relationships and implications over a child’s life course’, has for the first time calculated the true extent that disasters and climate influence child poverty in India and Kenya.

Researchers at the global independent think tank analysed the impact of natural hazard-related disasters, including those potentially influenced by climate change, on children and adolescents at different stages of their life to build a complete picture of how young people’s life chances are affected by such events.

Report co-author Emma Lovell, Research Fellow at ODI, said: ‘The devastating monsoon floods in Kerala last year reflect the constant threat of flooding in India. It was the most common disaster type in India between 2000 and 2014 and was also responsible for the most deaths.

‘Our research demonstrates a child’s experience of climate and natural hazard-related disasters will vary depending on the context in which they are living and the poorest in society are much more likely to be affected.

‘At the same time, disasters and climate hazards affect children and adolescents in different ways, both directly, through injury or the impact on household poverty or individual deprivation, and indirectly, through the effects on services and systems central to their wellbeing and longer-term development.’

The report finds that in India, 90% of chronically poor mothers had fewer than four antenatal visits in disaster-prone areas, compared with 85% elsewhere. Other findings from the survey in India include:

  • 11% of chronically poor children under five had diarrhoea in the two weeks preceding the survey in disaster-prone areas, compared with 6% elsewhere
  • 43% of chronically poor adolescents were enrolled in school at the time of the survey in disaster-prone areas, compared with 51% elsewhere

The report highlights that as the world faces a growing number of climate-related disasters due to unsustainable development combined with climate change, it is imperative policymakers recognise the potential this has to reverse years of development gains.

Co-author Vidya Diwakar, Senior Research Officer at ODI, said: ‘This research shows a clear link between disasters, including those potentially influenced by climate change, and poverty among children and adolescents.

‘Eliminating poverty means tackling the causes behind chronic poverty, preventing people from falling into poverty and ensuring people can sustain their escapes from poverty. None of this is possible if we do not build resilience to climate extremes and disasters. This needs to have a much stronger focus in policies that help eradicate poverty.

‘It is vital that governments take into account the whole course of a child’s life when making policy in disaster-prone areas, and that they build the resilience of key services and infrastructure to ensure their accessibility and continuity, despite environmental shocks and stresses.’

The paper makes a series of policy and programming recommendations for governments and donors.

Notes to editors

  • The report, ‘Child poverty, disasters and climate change: Investigating relationships and implications over a child’s life course’, will be published on Thursday, March 14
  • Above, ratios of chronic poverty and impoverishment are stated as relative risks. What this means is that children in disaster-prone areas had two times the risk of living in chronic poverty, relative to children who had escaped poverty.

ENDS