Poverty and ‘natural’ disasters: arsenic in Bangladesh

Every year we witness dozens of ‘natural’ disasters from all over the world which are usually accompanied by a devastating loss of life, the displacements of thousands and the loss of livelihoods that compounds the suffering. From the earthquakes in Haiti (2010), to the floods in Pakistan (2011/2012), we see these events and stare in wonder thinking about how lucky we are.


Then there are the social and political disasters such as wars.


The easiest thing to do is draw a neat divide between ‘natural’ and ‘social’ crises: seeing one as the result of nature and the other as failed political and social processes.

What the earthquake in Haiti highlighted, however, is that natural disasters are made significantly worse because of poverty: that is, natural and social disasters are interrelated. The reasons Haiti is so poor are complex and the result of both international influence including a history of colonialism, and domestic (see this blog for a brief oversight). But these social and political reasons made the country so vulnerable to a natural disaster – in other words, poverty was one of the main reasons that so many people die (as discussed by the New Scientist).


Having just returned from Bangladesh, I was again confronted by a ‘natural’ disaster that is made worse because of failed social and economic policies – again which have both external and domestic drivers. A major crisis in Bangladesh is the arsenic poisoned water that it is estimated to be affecting 77 million people. I wrote about the trip and the contamination of this water in a recent article¬†for New Matilda which is available here…


Key here is that we simply do not shrug our shoulders and say, ‘that is bad luck’. The social and economic processes that led to this ‘natural’ disaster are constructed by humans – and it is us humans who can change them!

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2 Responses to Poverty and ‘natural’ disasters: arsenic in Bangladesh

  1. politeTroll says:

    Great observations love your work !

    one typo [ reasons that so many people dies ]

  2. James Arvanitakis says:

    Hey politeTroll…

    Thanks for the feedback and picking up the typo… no matter how many times you read something, they slip through!

    Cheers, james

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