The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (2023)

The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (1)

April 10, 2018 • UPDATED April 08, 2021

Around the world, people are experiencing both the subtle and stark effects of climate change. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are devastating evidence of both a rapidly changing climate and an urgent need for solutions.

While the impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent, they don’t do it equally. People already burdened by poverty and oppression often suffer the harshest consequences, while having the least ability to cope. Their struggle to earn a living, feed their families and create stable homes is made more difficult every day the climate crisis continues.

The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts threaten lives in these front-line communities, driving people from their homes and jeopardizing food sources and livelihoods. All these effects increase the likelihood of more conflict, hunger and poverty.

Still, the people most at risk are persisting despite it, fighting to grow food, maximize dwindling resources and withstand recurring disasters. The actions people in hard-hit regions are taking every day to overcome the burdens of the climate crisis are just as vital as widespread solutions. And the steps we take now as a global community, including supporting those on the front lines who are braving the challenge, will determine our resilience for the future.

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The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (3)
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The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (8)
The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (9)
The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (10)

The time for this action is now, with the U.N. secretary-general naming 2021 a “make or break” year to address the climate emergency.

(Video) The link between climate change, health and poverty

The climate crisis discriminates, but the efforts to fight it cannot. Mercy Corps partners with people and communities facing the starkest effects of climate change, connecting them to information and tools to protect themselves, overcome challenges and thrive in the changing environment.

Read on to learn more about how climate change triggers conflict and exacerbates hunger and poverty for these communities, as well as what Mercy Corps is doing to help them become stronger and more resilient in the face of change.

  • What are the biggest effects of climate change?
  • Who is most affected by climate change?
  • How does climate change increase conflict?
  • What’s the relationship between hunger and climate change?
  • How does climate change create climate refugees?
  • What’s the forecast for the future and climate change?
  • How is Mercy Corps helping?

What are the biggest effects of climate change?

Climate change places compounded stress on our environment, as well as the economic, social and political systems people depend on for food, safety and income. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters or extreme weather events like the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico andTheBahamas, climate change puts people’s lives at risk by undermining development and creating shortages of basic necessities, like food and water.

The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (11)

Climate change threatens the cleanliness of our air, depletes our water sources and limits food supply. It disrupts livelihoods, forces families from their homes and pushes people into poverty.

Research from 2015 revealed the planet had lost around one-third of its arable land in the previous 40 years, in large part due to climate disasters and poor conservation. And every year more trees and soil are lost. More than 1.3 billion people live on weakening agricultural land, putting them at risk of depleted harvests that can cause hunger, poverty and displacement. Soil, which is essential for healthy crops and ecosystems, is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, though recent research suggests conservation measures can help substantially.

Meanwhile, natural disasters have become more frequent and destructive. In 2019, 396 events — more than the annual average over the previous decade — affected 95 million people globally and caused $103 billion in economic losses. These damages can be nearly impossible for families living in poverty to overcome.

As climate events worsen, people are also threatened by more gradual changes, such as climbing temperatures and declining rainfall.

Droughts alone impact around 55 million people every year , and the damage hits the agriculture industry — the primary source of food and income for many people in developing countries — particularly hard. Between 2008 and 2018, more than 80% of drought damage was absorbed by agriculture in low- and lower-middle-income countries, and the crop and livestock losses caused by all natural disasters in these countries during the same timeframe equated to enough calories to feed 7 million people per year.

As these situations grow more desperate, food shortages can force families to leave their homes and migrate to other countries.

“When there is no rain, like now, we get big challenges. There are no yields, and when you go to the shops you find that food prices have gone up, yet you are still jobless.”

— Simon,a farmer in drought-stricken Kenya

Climate change is also one of many root causes of conflict around the world: it leads to food shortages, threatens people’s livelihoods and displaces entire populations. Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, instability will remain an ongoing threat.

Who is most affected by climate change?

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While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, the most vulnerable are people living in the world’s poorest countries, like Haiti and Timor-Leste, who have limited financial resources to cope with disasters, as well as the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers, herders and fisheries who depend on the climate and natural resources for food and income.

Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, endangering their livelihoods and increasing their risk of poverty and hunger.

The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (13)
The facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty (14)

The majority of people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For these people, the effects of climate change — shifting weather, limited water sources and increased competition for resources — are a real matter of life and death. Climate change has turned their lives into a desperate guessing game.

As the effects of climate change increase for these populations, so must the ingenuity of our response.

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(Video) How Climate Change Affects The Poor

How does climate change increase conflict?

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Conflict is the primary cause of poverty and suffering in the world today. And it’s exacerbated by climate change.

By amplifying existing environmental, social, political and economic challenges, climate change increases the likelihood of competition and conflict over resources. It can also intensify existing conflicts and tensions.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, shifts in the timing and magnitude of rainfall undermine food production and increase competition for remaining arable land, contributing to ethnic tensions and conflict.

And in places like central Nigeria and Karamoja, Uganda, where resource scarcity has been a long-standing challenge, climate change has further reduced pasture and water sources and resulted in increased competition and violence.

“The land is insufficient. ... The relationship [between people] is no longer that good. Take farms and cattle for instance. Since the land is not enough, cattle tend to encroach into farmers' crops. It brings about trouble, crises and the involvement of law enforcement agents.”

— Habibu, pastoralist in resource-scarce central Nigeria

But while climate change can lead to conflict, it can also provide an opportunity for collaboration. These challenges present a unique opportunity for collective action and partnership in order to mitigate the impacts, and the security of front-line communities will depend on cooperation over conflict.

“The community feels anxious because the flooding is quite disruptive of our daily activities, so we try to always communicate and coordinate to find solutions when flooding happens in our neighborhood. … I am happy to live in my current neighborhood because we handle the flooding issue together as a community.”

— Sagiman, community member in flood-prone Indonesia

In Uganda, Mercy Corps is helping one South Sudanese refugee form a friendship without borders▸

What’s the relationship between hunger and climate change?

Climate change threatens the world's food supply.

Floods and droughts brought on by climate change make it harder to produce food. As a result, the price of food increases, and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger.

Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century. The number of undernourished people in the world has been increasing since 2014, reaching nearly 690 million — almost 9% of the global population — in 2019. The vast majority live in low- and middle-income countries — research shows hunger to be most prevalent in Africa and rising fastest in Latin America and the Caribbean. The number of undernourished people in the Latin America and Caribbean region increased by 9 million between 2015 and 2019.

Much of the increase is linked to progressively extreme weather and the growing number of conflicts, which can be driven or exacerbated by climate-related stresses. The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises recently reported its highest number of acutely food insecure people on record, some 135 million people across 55 countries and territories, in part due to climate shocks and natural disasters such as flooding, erratic rain, climate-induced displacement and the devastating locust invasion in East Africa.

How does climate change create climate refugees?

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Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and prolonged drought force millions of people to lose or move away from their homes every year in search of food, water, shelter or jobs.

Nearly 70% of all new displacements in the first six months of last year were the result of weather-related disasters, with a total of 9.8 million people around the world driven from their homes by shocks like drought, hurricanes and landslides — around 50,000 people every day.

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Meanwhile, gradual changes brought on by deforestation, overgrazing and decreased rainfall slowly transform pastures to dust, destroy crops and kill livestock, effectively challenging the livelihoods of millions of farmers. Many of these families are forced to leave their homes behind in search of basic necessities and new work.

And if sea levels continue to rise without intervention, many of those living near the ocean — about 40 percent of the world’s population — will be at risk of losing their homes.

(Video) Climate Change & Poverty

Almost all of these displacements are occurring in low- and middle-income countries, where people have fewer options to cope with progressive shifts or sudden disasters.

What’s the forecast for the future and climate change?

The negative impacts of climate change continue to worsen and multiply at dramatic rates, and more ambitious global efforts are necessary to cut emissions and limit the effect of climate change on the planet.

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Access to clean water is likely to become even more limited, and the risk of hunger and famine will become even greater than it is today. By 2050, climate change reportedly has the potential to increase the number of people at risk of hunger by as much as 20%. The majority of those at risk live in Africa.

Tens of millions of people are expected to be forced from their homes in the next decade as a result of climate change. This would be the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.

In 2017, the World Health Organization reported climate change is expected to kill an additional 250,000 people every year between 2030 and 2050, from climate-linked malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, all while continuing to jeopardize clean air, safe drinking water and sufficient food supply.

A crisis of this scale demands a united, immediate response of an even greater magnitude: one in which we work together to help communities worldwide confront the challenges of today while developing solutions for a safer, more stable future.

How is Mercy Corps helping?

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Mercy Corps is helping people around the world adapt to climate change.

In places as diverse as Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, Mongolia and Indonesia, we listen to the climate challenges each community is facing and collaborate with them to develop solutions that will make the biggest impact. This work aims to remove barriers so communities can adapt, innovate and thrive amidst the impacts of climate change, particularly in three areas: disappearing livelihoods and rising hunger, increasing disaster and escalating violence.

Read more about our approach to climate-resilient development▸

1. Building climate-resilient livelihoods and food sources

We support farmers and communities to better manage unpredictable weather patterns and maximize the resources they do have by connecting them with information, tools and services for growing hardier yields and raising livestock.

This includes helping farmers diversify their crops and redesign their farmland to improve their productivity and protect the soil, so they are better equipped to continue growing food and earning income in the face of drought. We also train herders on how to keep their animals healthy in drier conditions.

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We link farmers and herders with banking services, such as loans and savings, as well as insurance products, that can help them protect their work and build a financial safety net. And we use mobile technology to connect them to critical information — weather updates, crop prices, e-learning — they can leverage to make informed choices on when to plant and sell and how to treat their crops and animals.

REPORT: How investing in resilience helps fight drought▸

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We also work with communities to strengthen and adapt their local market systems and secure economies that can thrive in a changing climate.

This includes introducing new, locally-produced agricultural supplies, such as drought-resistant seeds and drip irrigation, which helps farmers in places like water-scarce Jordan use limited resources more efficiently. We also link farmers in Afghanistan and other farming communities with new buyers, enabling individuals to increase their income and encouraging job creation in rural economies.

How we're helping herders build resilience in rural Ethiopia▸

2. Helping communities prepare for worsening disasters

We help communities rebound from disasters while strengthening them to be more resilient for the future. We do this by partnering with them to decrease the risk of damage while equipping themselves to respond in the event of another disaster.

In flood-prone places, like Tajikistan and Indonesia, we’ve worked with communities to reinforce river embankments and prepare for future flooding by developing early warning systems and evacuation routes.

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In Puerto Rico, where hurricanes are an annual threat, we’ve collaborated with existing community centers to create resilience hubs supplied with solar power, water and emergency essentials, so community members won’t be dependent on external aid to survive in the event of a future disaster.

(Video) How could climate change impact poor and homeless people?

Around the world, we teach students and community members about climate impact, risk management and disaster preparedness so they’re better prepared for emergencies. And we collaborate with local and national governments to strengthen their communities’ resilience to weather-related risks, including improving the way water and land is managed, building disaster response plans and developing policies that reduce vulnerability to climate change.

CASE STUDY: A governance approach to building climate resilience in Indonesia▸

3. Addressing conflict caused by climate change

To resolve climate-related tension and stop violence before it starts, we help communities and their governments build an environment in which people work together to protect and share natural resources.

We provide opportunities for people to overcome their differences and collectively manage resources, like training community leaders to build conflict management skills and helping people identify shared concerns and solutions.

“If we work as a team in unity then all work will be easy, but if we keep fighting within each other then we can do nothing.”

— Gayadin, farmer in flood-prone rural Nepal

In Uganda, for example, we facilitate resource-sharing agreements and promote cooperation between communities to reduce conflict. In Nigeria, we teach farmers and herders how to peacefully resolve disagreements over land and water that could otherwise spiral into violence.

Just as the fight against climate change is a collective effort, we see the shared experience of its local impacts as an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration that can reduce the risk of conflict and foster a better future.

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How does climate change affect people in poverty? ›

Floods and droughts brought on by climate change make it harder to produce food. As a result, the price of food increases, and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger. Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century.

Why will the poor be most affected by climate change? ›

Extreme weather patterns, natural hazards and food and water shortages are threatening the lives of people living in poverty and, the poorer people are, the harder it is to recover from failed harvests, destroyed homes, and health crises.

What are the 4 main effects of climate change on people? ›

threat to livelihoods from floods and forest fires. health risks due to increase in frequency and intensity of heat extremes. economic implications of dealing with secondary damage related to climate change. increasing spread of pests and pathogens.

How does the environment affect poverty? ›

Environmental problems cause more suffering among the poor: • overcrowded urban areas increase the risk of disease. shortages of wood for fuel and other uses make it more expensive to buy. soil erosion and deforestation cause declining crop yields.

What are the 5 effects of climate change? ›

More frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans can directly harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people's livelihoods and communities.

How are people affected by climate change? ›

Climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues.

How many people are affected by climate change? ›

In the new global study, researchers analyzed over 100,000 studies on weather events, finding that 80% of the world's land mass has been impacted by climate change, influencing most of the world's 7.7 billion people.

Where is climate change affecting the most? ›

The Arctic is one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as it is warming at least twice the rate of the global average and melting land ice sheets and glaciers contribute dramatically to sea level rise around the globe.

What are 2 examples of effects of climate change? ›

Climate change has caused increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks. In turn, these changes have made wildfires more numerous and severe. The warming climate has also caused a decline in water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and triggered heat-related health impacts in cities.

What are 6 causes of climate change? ›

Causes of Climate Change
  • Heat-trapping Greenhouse Gases And The Earth's Climate. ...
  • Greenhouse Gases. ...
  • Reflectivity or Absorption of the Sun's Energy. ...
  • Changes in the Earth's Orbit and Rotation. ...
  • Variations in Solar Activity. ...
  • Changes in the Earth's Reflectivity. ...
  • Volcanic Activity.
19 Aug 2022

How does climate change affect society? ›

As the climate continues to change, millions of poor people face increasing challenges in terms of extreme events, health effects, food, water, and livelihood security, migration and forced displacement, loss of cultural identity, and other related risks.

How can we solve poverty in the environment? ›

Environmental Solutions to Poverty
  1. Demi-Lune Agriculture to Stop Desertification. In the past century, deserts have expanded rapidly due to industrialization and rising global populations. ...
  2. Planting Trees to Reduce Landslides. ...
  3. Cleaning Rivers for Clean Water. ...
  4. The Future.
5 Aug 2021

How is poverty caused? ›

This might seem like a no-brainer: Without a job or a livelihood, people will face poverty. Dwindling access to productive land (often due to conflict, overpopulation, or climate change) and overexploitation of resources like fish or minerals puts increasing pressure on many traditional livelihoods.

What actually causes poverty? ›

Poverty rarely has a single cause. A range of factors including rising living costs, low pay, lack of work, and inadequate social security benefits together mean some people do not have enough resources.

Who is affected by poverty? ›

Children, lone parents, disabled people and people in households in which no one works are more likely to experience poverty, to remain in poverty for longer and to experience deeper poverty, than others.

What are the 3 main causes of climate change? ›

Causes of Climate Change
  • Generating power. Generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels causes a large chunk of global emissions. ...
  • Manufacturing goods. ...
  • Cutting down forests. ...
  • Using transportation. ...
  • Producing food. ...
  • Powering buildings. ...
  • Consuming too much.

How does climate affect human life essay? ›

Climate change affects life around the globe. It impacts plants and animals, with consequences for the survival of the species. In humans, climate change has multiple deleterious consequences. Climate change creates water and food insecurity, increased morbidity/mortality, and population movement.

What is the 4 example of climate change? ›

Rising sea levels. Shrinking mountain glaciers. Ice melting at a faster rate than usual in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic. Changes in flower and plant blooming times.

Who suffers the most due to climate change? ›

10 of the countries most affected by climate change
  • Afghanistan. ...
  • Bangladesh. ...
  • Chad. ...
  • Haiti. ...
  • Kenya. ...
  • Malawi. ...
  • Niger. ...
  • Pakistan.
4 Jul 2022

How does climate affect where people live? ›

The latitude, elevation (height from sea level), and distance from the ocean help determine a region's climate. Climate affects where people can live. It also affects what they can grow. People cannot live where there is no water or soil to grow food.

What are the types of climate change? ›

Official Definition Of Climate Change

These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea-level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events.”

What is climate change essay? ›

Climate Change Essay. Climate change is the long-term change in global weather patterns due to increased heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. These gases are emitted by human activities and have increased at an alarming rate over the past century.

What are the 4 natural causes of climate change? ›

These have been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, emissions from volcanoes, variations in Earth's orbit and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).

What do you mean by climate change? ›

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

Is climate change natural? ›

Natural causes of climate change

The earth has gone through warming and cooling phases in the past, long before humans were around. Forces that can contribute to climate change include the sun's intensity, volcanic eruptions, and changes in naturally occurring greenhouse gas concentrations.

What are the main causes of climate change essay? ›

Human activity is the main cause of climate change. People burn fossil fuels and convert land from forests to agriculture. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have burned more and more fossil fuels and changed vast areas of land from forests to farmland.

How does climate change affect everyday life? ›

We are losing natural spaces. High temperatures, lack of precipitation and desertification are depriving areas of rain. This means river levels in these areas are falling, causing lakes, ponds and wells to dry up, and even disappear in some places.

What are the main threats of climate change? ›

The main threats of climate change, stemming from the rising temperature of Earth's atmosphere include rising sea levels, ecosystem collapse and more frequent and severe weather. Rising temperatures from human-caused greenhouse gas emissions affects planet-wide systems in various ways.

What causes climate change changes? ›

The evidence is clear: the main cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. When burnt, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the air, causing the planet to heat up.

What can you say about poverty essay? ›

We can define poverty as the condition where the basic needs of a family, like food, shelter, clothing, and education are not fulfilled. It can lead to other problems like poor literacy, unemployment, malnutrition, etc. A poor person is not able to get education due to lack of money and therefore remains unemployed.

Why do we need to end poverty? ›

Because poverty and inequities hurt all of us in the long run. They erode social cohesion and create a burden on all taxpayers to pay for poverty reduction, healthcare services, unemployment, crime and homelessness. Our economic system and well-being are at risk of serious deterioration unless we take action now.

How many people live in poverty in the world? ›

YearNumber of people living on less than $5.50 per day, globally (millions)Number of people living on less than $3.20 per day, globally (millions)
13 more rows

Why is the study of climate change important * Your answer? ›

It's important that we understand how the climate is changing, so that we can prepare for the future. Studying the climate helps us predict how much rain the next winter might bring, or how far sea levels will rise due to warmer sea temperatures.

How does climate change affect our economy? ›

Climate change is now considered one of the greatest threats to economic stability. As well as its serious impact on the environment and people, climate change is one of the biggest threats to economic stability. Heatwaves make us less able to work and reduce productivity.

What are 5 ways to help the environment? ›

Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Help Protect the Earth
  1. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Cut down on what you throw away. ...
  2. Volunteer. Volunteer for cleanups in your community. ...
  3. Educate. ...
  4. Conserve water. ...
  5. Choose sustainable. ...
  6. Shop wisely. ...
  7. Use long-lasting light bulbs. ...
  8. Plant a tree.
11 Aug 2021

How does climate change contribute to inequality and poverty? ›

By hitting the poorest hardest, climate change risks both increasing existing economic inequalities and causing people to fall into poverty.

How environmental issues affect rich and poor people? ›

Poverty often causes people to put relatively more pressure on the environment which results in larger families (due to high death rates and insecurity), improper human waste disposal leading to unhealthy living conditions, more pressure on fragile land to meet their needs, overexploitation of natural resources and ...

How does climate change affect poor people in Africa? ›

Varying rainfall leads to flooding in some areas and droughts in others, both of which reduce agricultural production, increase food insecurity and food prices, and cause dislocation of poverty-stricken rural populations to already overcrowded urban areas that are ill-equipped to accept them, or to other nations, ...

How does climate change affect the poor more than the rich? ›

Climate change impacts the poorest more than the wealthy

But the poor may not be able to evacuate, may not have reliable access to food, water, housing or energy, and insurance may be unavailable or unaffordable.

What are the 3 main impacts of climate change? ›

Earth Will Continue to Warm and the Effects Will Be Profound

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions, and an increase in the duration and intensity of tropical storms.

How climate change affect our life? ›

The impacts of climate change on different sectors of society are interrelated. Drought can harm food production and human health. Flooding can lead to disease spread and damages to ecosystems and infrastructure. Human health issues can increase mortality, impact food availability, and limit worker productivity.

Who is most affected by climate change? ›

According to this analysis, based on the impacts of extreme weather events and the socio-economic losses they cause, Japan, the Philippines and Germany are the most affected places by climate change today.

What are four 4 negative impacts that humans have caused to the environment? ›

Humans impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.

What are the causes of poor environment? ›

Causes include overpopulation, pollution, deforestation, global warming, unsustainable agricultural and fishing practices, overconsumption, maldistribution of wealth, the rise of the corporation, the Third World debt crisis, and militarization and wars.

How does climate change cause poverty in South Africa? ›

Floods, droughts, and heatwaves are more powerful and are happening more often. People lose their homes, jobs, and eat less food. And poor people suffer the most! People who are very poor do not have enough resources to handle the effects of extreme weather events.

How does climate affect people in Africa? ›

“Temperature increase, heat waves, extensive floods, tropical cyclones, prolonged droughts, and sea level rise resulting in loss of lives, property damage, and population displacement, undermine Africa's ability to achieve its commitments to meet the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ...

What are the effects of poverty in Africa? ›


Extreme poverty leads to hunger in Africa: More than a quarter of the hungry in the world live on the African continent. One fifth of people living in Africa are considered malnourished. This gives the continent the highest rate of malnourished people worldwide.


1. How climate change is making inequality worse - BBC News
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2. "Climate Change, Poverty and Refugees: It is All Connected" with Sr. Caroljean Willie
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3. Poor people are not causing climate change...Classism in Sustainability
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4. Shock Waves : Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty
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5. Climate Change Could Force 100 Million More Into Poverty - Newsy
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6. Climate Change and How it Affects the Poor | Podcast Ep 14
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