Report identifies climate change and migration as biggest burden

The World Social Report for 2020 is out and has stark warnings for the region, and the world, over climate change, migration, technology and urbanisation broadening the divides between the haves and the have nots.

Here in the Pacific, climate change is exacerbating inequality, affecting livelihoods, health and mortality, food security and the labour market. Its effects are unevenly felt across the world, but also within countries causing even greater divides between reach and poor.  

Migration is also making its mark, but the report finds it has potential to actually reduce inequalities, across different skill levels. 

The United Nations agency which produces the World Social Report each year said while social and environmental changes furthering inequalities are happening quickly, “the future course of these complex challenges is not irreversible.

“Technological change, migration, urbanization and even the climate crisis can be harnessed for a more equitable and sustainable world, or they can be left to further divide us,” U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

The 200 page report highlights how for small island developing states, disproportionately high risks from climate change will result in a “vicious cycle of increasing poverty and vulnerability, worsening inequality and the already precarious situation of many disadvantaged groups.”

As sea levels rise, seasons become more unpredictable and extreme weather events worsen, small holder farmers, coastal populations and people in perilous housing conditions face massive economic and social shocks they may not be able to bounce back from.

An estimate based on displacement data suggests 24.1 million people a year in the last decade were relocated due to extreme weather and natural disasters. In Samoa, 2009 saw hundreds of people move inland after the south coast was ravaged by a tsunami. Some, but not all, have moved back to the coast.

The effects of climate change have been shown to delay or completely destroy years of development work in low and middle income countries like Samoa. 

In the Caribbean, the report states, Antigua and Barbuda suffered nearly 215 per cent of gross domestic product (G.D.P.) in 2017. 

The health impacts of climate change have been tallied, and the results are grim. 

“Extreme temperatures, for instance, aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory disease and increase mortality. Fluctuating and increased precipitation levels compromise freshwater supplies and raise the risk of diarrhoea, waterborne illnesses and diseases transmitted through insects and animals. Changing climatic conditions will not only lengthen periods of disease transmission, but also expand their geographic range.”

Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been proven to worsen the nutritional value of crops and may increase foodborne illnesses or toxic compounds in produce, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has said. 

People will get sicker, and it is the poorest who will suffer as they have the least ready access to healthcare, medical supplies and are least likely to adhere to treatment.

Climate change will affect the oldest and youngest, as well as maternal health, “pregnant women are especially vulnerable to climate hazards and infectious diseases, including malaria, foodborne infections and influenza,” the report states.

Depending on how big an effort the world makes to adapt to and mitigate against climate change, several million more people could be living in poverty by 2030.

The report reveals estimates by academics suggesting that “even under a low-impact scenario where mitigation and adaptation strategies are successful, climate change could result in an additional 3 million to 16 million people living in poverty by 2030. Under a high-impact scenario, between 35 million and 122 million could fall into poverty.”

Those impoverished, newly or otherwise, will also have the hardest time recovering. 

“Compared to wealthier households, those in poverty are much less likely to have insurance or access to other financial instruments, including loans for disaster recovery.

“Globally, half of adults without an account at a financial institution or a mobile money provider in 2017 were from the poorest 40 per cent of households in their countries,” the report states.

The impacts of migration on small islands states inequality is manifested in the labour market. Migration has resulted in a shortage of skilled professionals in certain sectors.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) more than half of doctors were working outside their homelands in the mid-2000’s.

But a major concern is the disparities between the local and migrant population in a given country. In New Zealand’s population of 144,138 Samoans, just 63.8 per cent are employed and they are largely in the manufacturing industry. 

The impact of remittances on the home country’s economy is significant but “pioneering migrants often face considerable hurdles in the beginning,” the report states.

“Difficulties in finding employment, for example, can be exacerbated by language barriers and inadequate knowledge of local customs.

“While migrants generally benefit from moving, they are worse off than their native peers in countries of destination. As a result, the influx of migrants has pushed group-based inequality (“horizontal inequality”) upwards.

“In the labour markets of developed countries, international migrants work more often in informal jobs, receive lower wages and endure worse working conditions than natives.”

The World Social Report is produced by the U.N Department of Economic and Social Affairs (U.N.D.E.S.A.).

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