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close this bookAn Overview of Disaster Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 136 p.)
close this folderChapter 1. Introduction to disasters
close this folderCausal factors of disasters
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPoverty
View the documentPopulation growth
View the documentRapid urbanization
View the documentTransitions in cultural practices
View the documentEnvironmental degradation
View the documentLack of awareness and information
View the documentWar and civil strife



Photo credit: UNHCR/M. Vanappelghem

The most important single influence on the impact of a disaster is poverty. All other factors could be lessened if the affected population were not also limited by poverty. Virtually all disaster studies show that the wealthiest of the population either survive the disaster unaffected or are able to recover quickly. Across the broad spectrum of disasters, poverty generally makes people vulnerable to the impact of hazards. Poverty explains why people in urban areas are forced to live on hills that are prone to landslides, or why people settle near volcanos or rivers that invariably flood their banks. Poverty explains why droughts claim poor peasant farmers as victims and rarely the wealthy, and why famines more often than not are the result of a lack of purchasing power to buy food rather than an absence of food. Increasingly, poverty also explains why many people are forced to move from their homes to other parts of their countries or even across borders to survive. Such crisis-induced migration poses considerable challenges both in terms of immediate assistance to the displaced and of longer-term development.