A new study in Honduras suggests that climate-related weather disasters may sometimes actually provide opportunities for the rural poor to improve their lives.
Researchers found that that the poorest inhabitants of a small village in northeastern Honduras increased their land wealth and their share of earnings relative to more wealthy residents after Hurricane Mitch devastated their village in October 1998.
In order to compare how residents fared after the hurricane, the researchers separated the population into thirds, based on the amount of land they owed. They found that the land-poorest third of the residents – half of which were headed by single women – lost 59 percent of their land to the hurricane, compared to just 36 percent land loss suffered by the land-richest third of the residents.
But while the poorest were hit hardest by the hurricane, they actually showed a remarkable rebound in the years following, McSweeney said.
By 2002, the households in the study had not only recouped their hurricane-caused losses, but tripled their average holdings, from 13 hectares to 42 hectares. Households that owned the most land before Mitch gained the most back by 2002.
But the households who were the land-poorest before Mitch had a greater relative gain – a 296 percent increase in land held from 1998 to 2002. Overall the total land held by the formerly land-poor doubled by 2002, the results showed.
“Land in the community actually became more equitably distributed after the hurricane, McSweeney said.
In addition, the land-poorest households also captured a greater share of the community’s income after the hurricane. Overall, incomes declined in the community after the hurricane but, surprisingly, the cash earnings of the land-poorest households actually held steady between 1998 and 2001.
The result was that the poorest saw their share of the community’s aggregate income increase from 18 percent to 41 percent over that time.
Much of that income increase came because the poorest residents increased the amount of money they received from local salary or wage work. Many poor residents accepted positions with the forestry service and other organizations involved in post-Mitch cleanup or management of a local biosphere reserve.