Year after year disasters hit different parts of the world. The most vulnerable and marginalised people suffer most when disaster strikes. This applies whether the poor are living in one of the richest countries in the world or trying to eke out an existence in one of the poorest. The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the poorest people in New Orleans is an example of the first; there are many examples of the second.

Some parts of the world are more susceptible to disasters than others – Central America and the Caribbean are frequently hit by hurricanes; the countries bordering the Bay of Bengal by cyclones; parts of Africa and India by severe flooding. Some countries live constantly on the verge of famine.

There is always a need for immediate aid when an earthquake, hurricane, cyclone, floods or famine strike. Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal has, thanks to the generosity of its supporters, been able to respond to calls for emergency help. This contributes to alleviating the suffering of the survivors of a disaster and may help them start to rebuild their shattered lives. However, unless steps are taken to lift people in affected areas out of poverty they will be back to square one when the next hurricane, cyclone, flood or famine strikes. There will be an ongoing cycle of disaster and emergency relief.  That is why Bishops’ Appeal balances its emergency responses with long-term sustainable development that enables people to build resilience and reserves so that they can withstand future crises.

How does poverty make disasters more damaging?

An example of the way poverty exacerbates the effect of a natural disaster can be seen in the contrasting results of two earthquakes that occurred within weeks of each other in early 2010.

An earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale hit Haiti on 12th January. The death toll is estimated as between 250,000 and 300,000 with homes, hospitals, schools and other buildings demolished. Another earthquake, at 8.8 on the Richter scale estimated to be 500 times more powerful than the one that killed so many people in Haiti, hit near Concepcion in Chile a few weeks later. The death toll was about 1,500 and the infrastructural damage was significantly less than that in Haiti.

There were a number of reasons for the difference in the outcome of the two earthquakes. The Chilean one was under the sea and at a deeper level than the one in Haiti. This reduced the impact to some degree. The main reason for the difference, however, lay in the disparity of wealth between the two countries. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere while Chile is one of the richest. The infrastructure in Haiti was very poor while that in Chile was much more solid. Chile was rich enough to afford to build earthquake proof buildings, not an option for Haiti. Poverty kills in many ways.

In many cases humankind has created conditions that increase the frequency and severity of natural events. There are suggestions that climate change has increased the frequency and severity of hurricanes, for example. The floods in countries like India and Bangladesh are affected by increased melting of Himalayan glaciers. Deforestation of the Gulf Coast area in the USA as mangrove swamps were cut to make way for development exacerbated the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Millions of people face a bleak future unless humankind takes steps to stabilise global temperatures and then reduce them.

Examples of Emergency and Disaster Relief Response:

  • Emergency funds have been released to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to support their work responding to over 500,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar and seeking refuge in Bangladesh.
  • Funds have been sent to CMS Ireland for food, water, shelter and medical supplies for displaced people in South Sudan.   Similarly, we have released funds for South Sudanese refugees in 5 refugee camps in Uganda.
  • In Yemen, Bishops’ Appeal released funding through Tearfund Ireland for medical supplies in light of the most recent cholera outbreak.
  • The East Africa Appeal is open for all those who wish to contribute to emergency and famine responses in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.East Africa Appeal:

    €12 / £10 can feed a child for a month

    €30 / £25 can buy a month’s worth of food vouchers

    €170 / £145 can buy essentials provisions for 500 households

  • Our Syria Appeal has supported internally displaced people in Syria, as well as refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
  • Our Refugee Crisis Appeal released much needed funds for both groups and churches throughout Europe who were responding to the arrival of refugees in Greece, Italy, Hungary and Germany.