I was looking at pictures of flooded Iowa today and was awestruck by the destructive power of too much water. I’ve blogged about how important water is to life. But it’s amazing how you can have too much of a good thing. So much land completely under water, killing the crops and destroying livelihoods. Between floods, tornadoes, and wildfires, it’s been a rough month or two in the United States.
How many people’s lives have been altered by nature in the past couple of months? And how many of them have the means to recover? Some are insured, have savings, and other support structures. Reconstructing their fractured lives will be difficult and emotional, to be sure, but largely a matter of time. But those living at or near poverty before disaster struck are facing a whole different reality. Disasters destroy homes, leaving some with nowhere to live. Disasters close businesses, sometimes permanently, causing loss of employment and income. Disasters interrupt health care treatment, making it difficult (or impossible) to tackle the work of recovering. Disaster interrupt education. For those who were struggling to stay in school in the first place, it can be difficult to go back. In the short term, disaster can destroy local food supplies and roadways, making short term hunger very real for everyone. But longer term, especially in rural areas, those who relied on gardens for even some of their food face new and unwelcome challenges.
The list of ways that natural disasters exacerbate the conditions for hunger and poverty go on; I’ve mentioned just a few. Knowing how many disasters the United States has had already this year, I wonder what the longer-term effect will be. How many who were living on the edge of poverty will now be solidly in it? The U.S. Census Bureau provides annual data about poverty in this country. It will be interesting to see how 2008 compares to 2007.