Poor Hit Hardest by Climate Change
Wednesday, December 12, 2007; 4:38 AM
BALI, Indonesia -- Surrounded by rising seas and short of water, the glitzy city state of Singapore has built one of the world's largest desalination plants and is paying Dutch experts tens of millions of dollars to devise ways to protect their island.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, is digging out from a cyclone that killed at least 3,200 and left millions homeless. The impoverished country wants to build up its coastlines to ward off the potentially devastating impacts of global warming, but has no money.
The disparities between the rich and poor in adapting to encroaching oceans and the floods and droughts that are expected to worsen with rising temperatures have dominated the U.N. climate conference on Indonesia's resort island of Bali.
Many delegates touched Wednesday on the inequalities in both the levels of assistance and impacts of climate change when they spoke at the opening of high-level talks.
The haves _ which pump the lion's share of pollutants into the atmosphere _ are arguing about emission targets and high-tech solutions. The have-nots _ which contribute little to global warming but are disproportionately among the victims _ need tens of billions of dollars to save their sinking islands, to help farmers adapt and to relocate those in the path of destruction.
"The issue of equity is crucial. Climate affects us all, but does not affect us all equally," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates. "Those who are least able to cope are being hit hardest. Those who have done the least to cause the problem bear the gravest consequences."
The United Nations Development Program says 98 percent of the 262 million people hit by disasters from 2000 to 2004 came from impoverished countries, while the money to prevent disasters in the United Kingdom alone was six times what was spent in all poor countries.
The number of people affected by natural disasters has quadrupled over the past two decades _ from famines in Africa to floods in South Asia, according to Oxfam International, though it is not clear how much of that is due to global warming.
But with scientists predicting that temperatures could rise by as much as 5 degrees Celsius _ 9 degrees Fahrenheit _ things are only expected to get worse.
The U.N. predicts that about 1.8 billion of the most vulnerable people across the globe will be hit by water shortages, 600 million more will go hungry and 32 million will be displaced by droughts and floods.
"Poor countries have really urgent priorities _ putting food on the table, accessing water, health care," said Antonio Hill, a climate change expert with Oxfam. "On all these issues, climate change is making these things worse."
From Venice to New Orleans, the West is already taking action to fight climate change within their borders.