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1 million people displaced by the flooding of 5,000 square kilometers of prime farmland need food, housing, and jobs, placing enormous strains on local institutions
The scale of the disaster reminds us of the simple fact that “people in flood-prone poor countries already suffer much more than people in flood-prone rich countries,” as my colleague David Wheeler pointed out last year. Poverty hugely amplifies the suffering associated with environmental catastrophe.
This should be of great concern to the development community, because even fairly modest increases in sea level due to climate change will make flooding associated with tropical storms more likely and more severe—even if the storms themselves are not bigger or more frequent. The huge costs of these disasters is yet another reason why, in addition to expected steep declines in agricultural productivity, rapid development in the global South based on CO2-intensive fossil fuels, like the profligate emissions from the industrialized North, will impose huge future costs on developing countries.
Whether Nargis itself can be attributed to climate change is beside the point. The tragic unfolding aftermath of this storm in Burma, and the specter of future repetitions in a warming world, should be enough for the development community to place both emissions reductions and adaptation much higher on our list of priorities.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.