One thing when we support Savong’s School and children’s home in Cambodia is that we’ve always tried to put the work in context. I’ve never been a fan of NGOs that feature heart-moving photos of children ( a tug at the heart) without supplying convincing facts and figures to demonstrate the need for their work.
I thought today I’d discuss risk because of the fine line that exists for rural families in Cambodia between basically being self-sufficient and – all it takes is one storm or one bout of sickness – the prospect of lifelong hardship. I was reminded of this recently when I got a Facebook message from a young Cambodian who, having helped his mother plant rice fields a few weeks ago, was stressed out because a big storm was sweeping over and threatened to wipe everything out.
How does one measure the exposure that people have toward risk? The United Nations University (based in Bonn Germany) studies these things and in 2011 drew up their first World Risk Report. It examines a combination of social, economic and natural risks so, for example two nations may share the same degree of earthquake risk, but one nation may have the social and economic mechanisms to deal effectively with the problem, while the other nation – as we saw in Haiti – has people more exposed to risk and less able to cope with an earthquake if it occurred.
- Exposure to natural disaster or hazards (flood, storm, earthquake etc).
- Vulnerability – being a product of:
- Susceptibility – Likelihood of suffering harm
- Lack of coping capacities – capacities to reduce negative consequences
- Lack of adaptive capacities – capacities for long term strategies to reduce vulnerability
When the scores for each nation are compiled, Cambodians are ranked 8th most at risk in the world, headed by small Pacific Island nations (Vanuatu, Tonga, Solon Islands) but also the Philippines and Bangladesh.
Cambodia’s actual exposure to risk is high, though not nearly so high as less at-risk nations such as El Salvador or Brunei. So why are it’s people regarded as 8th most at risk? What pushes Cambodia up the risk rankings is its high vulnerability score – particularly on account high susceptibility (a typhoon and flooding could affect millions of farmers) but especially on account of the lack of coping capacities. On this count, Cambodia rates particularly poorly. So while there are quite high risks of flooding and storm damage in Cambodia, there is no systematic way to either provide immediate relief to families, or a particularly good plan to reduce susceptibility to such risks in future.
The World Risk Index may be one of those figures that become critically important in monitoring nations in future – especially, as seems pretty evident now, climates continue to change. What the Cambodian numbers tell us is that for farmers especially, the risk of a personal ruin brought about by a climatic or natural disaster are higher here than every nation in Africa, for example, and a quantum of risk higher than the USA, Canada or the EU.
As my Facebook friend indicated; every heavy rain could be the start of a ruinous flood. That sound of rain on the tin roof, which is for me one of my favorite sounds, has for many farmers a much more ominous ring.
- Bangladesh 5th most at risk.
- Cambodia 8th most at risk.
- Netherlands 51st most at risk
- Malaysia 91st most at risk.
- New Zealand 122nd most at risk.
- Sweden 164th most a risk.