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Oxfam Says Climate Change Hits Poor Hardest

A new report by the international humanitarian agency Oxfam says weather-related disasters have quadrupled during the past two decades. It calls for governments to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for the crisis. From London Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

The Oxfam report, called Climate Alarm, says natural disasters have risen from 120 annually in the 1980s to as many as 500 today.

The report notes that while crises such as the African famines of the early 1980s, the Bangladesh cyclone of 1991 and the Asian tsunami caused an enormous loss of life, the new worrying trend is the increase in small to medium-sized disasters.

The report's author, John Magrath, says most of these disasters now occur at unusual times.

"We think that 2007 has been a particularly bad year and also particularly strange year because of the unprecedented nature of many of these disasters. We are talking about some very unusual floods in West Africa, very unusual floods in East Africa, extraordinary floods in Mexico and parts of Central America, and heat waves in Greece, eastern Europe," said Magrath.

One short disaster after another, even if relatively small, the report warns, can push poor people and communities into a downward spiral from which it is very difficult to recover. It says the tendency of rich countries is to prioritize their aid spending on more high-profile emergencies. They also focus on countries that are seen as being in line with their foreign policy priorities, the report says.

Magrath says the people who are least responsible for climate change are the ones most adversely affected by it.

"There is a basic global injustice in this. It seems to us that the rich nations of this earth have the historical responsibility to act first and fastest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to show an example and to lead the way," he added. "They also have the capability to do it and to begin to switch away from fossil fuels, to renewable energy, there is a huge potential for that, a huge market for that, it is about time some leadership was shown."

Magrath expressed hope that the United Nations Climate Change conference set for Bali in December will present developed countries with an opportunity to seriously address climate change issues.