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  • Dylan D’Agate

A Way Toward Environmental Justice

Urgent. Enlightening. These are words that came to mind during my interview with acclaimed environmental economist Stéphane Hallegate, Ph.D., a senior climate change adviser at the World Bank Group. According to its website, the World Bank comprises nearly 200 member countries working toward sustainable solutions to reduce poverty and increase prosperity in developing countries. Dr. Hallegate, among his other achievements, is also a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here he explains how climate change is both creating and exposing large disparities in income inequality.

Disproportionate Impact of Extreme Weather on Low-Income Communities

  • Food/Agriculture. People in poverty, says Dr. Hallegate, often spend approximately 60 percent to 80 percent of their income on food. Any disruption in food supply can make acquiring adequate food unaffordable.

  • Health. Those living in low-income communities are more vulnerable to communicable diseases, often made worse by climate change and extreme weather. One example is waterborne diseases, which can disproportionately affect poor populations, due to inadequate sewage disposal systems, industrial effluents, and surface runoff.

  • Physical Infrastructure. Floods, heat, and hurricanes can have devastating economic impacts on homes and businesses in impoverished communities marked by a lack of protective infrastructure (ex., building foundations, adequate water drainage), further exacerbating economic disparities.

Steps to Mitigate Economic Damages

Dr. Hallegate touched upon the importance of accurate weather forecasting in helping avert societal and economic damages. He states that though we have made amazing progress with large weather phenomena through satellite technology (ex., tropical cyclone forecasting is reliable and can help avert devastation), we have room for improvement with local weather forecasting.

He divides the approach to mitigating the impacts of extreme weather into three stages:

  • The Emergency Phase, for which he believes there is still a lot of work to do. This acute phase occurs the first few days after an extreme weather event and requires an emphasis on contingency plans to rescue and treat people, with special emphasis on health care facilities.

  • The Social Protection Phase, the few weeks or months that follow the event during which the focus would be on providing food, shelter, and clothes to those affected. This focus on a social protection system, typically from governing authority, would be critical.

  • The Reconstruction Phase, or final phase, of mitigation would require financial tools, typically from government and private industry, to help regroup and rebuild a community affected by extreme weather.

Dr. Hallegate advises that to make hard statistics about economic and social devastation real, not remote, to all people, we must tell the human stories of those most impacted by extreme weather events.

See below for THE INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Stéphane Hallegate.



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