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Social impact of climate change

There exists an unequal impact of climate change on societies. Societies are exposed and affected by its threats disproportionally. Even within the same geographic location, there exist different vulnerabilities amongst the society. This happens due to the difference in the accessibility of the resources among the people.

Governance plays an important role in dealing with climate change risk. Availability of the required resources does not indicate that the people have access to them and it does not mean that these resources can be used to reduce the vulnerability faced. Access to these resources requires paving the way through a complicated hierarchical power structure. Take, for example, the availability of hospital services in disaster-struck regions. Although a hospital is available in the region it does not entail equal access to all the people. Poor and marginalized populations may not have the same accessibility to such services compared with other, (in many cases) wealthier sections of society. Inequalities in access to health care services exist not in between regions but also within a region and taking national average may not fully represent the low level of accessibility of health services among disadvantaged populations. In low and lower middle income countries, among the 20% of the poorest population only 17% of the mothers and children received six out of seven basic maternal and child health interventions, while among the wealthiest 20% of the household, 74% of mothers and children received the health interventions.

There also exists an inequality in the adaptive capacity among the societies. Some communities are able to recover from disasters sooner than others. This does not indicate the lack of resources among the communities, but rather the unequal distribution of the resources. For example, informal settlements are more vulnerable and are sidelined from claiming damages due to their legal status. The built environment is also a factor for poor communities, as they live in places that are more vulnerable to risks like floodplains. The lack of proper infrastructure makes them more sensitive to the impacts.

Social hierarchies can further affect access to resources and create more inequalities by influencing social power to secure fundings for responding to climate-related impacts. Take, for example, the coastal impacts of climate change require the construction of flood channels, dikes, sea walls, etc. and these constructions may protect the target population while deviating the risk elsewhere. This infrastructure may protect the high-value properties over the ecological services that benefit the local farmers and fishing communities. The construction of a levee raises flood levels in surrounding areas and transfer the risk from one location to another location in the vicinity.

Take for example, the  Sny Island levee imposed about additional 8 feet of water on the town of Hannibal, Missouri. Also, the population living behind the levee has a catastrophic risk of flooding in case the levee fails. For the disadvantaged population, climate impacts not only affect their safety but also their livelihood. In some cases, the inability to claim legal status over their land affects their access to social services provided by the government, and privatisation of the public services and healthcare infrastructure further reduces their access to these resources.

The solution for these vulnerable communities could be to engineer localized adaptive measures and also to form their own political representation. The vulnerable population is required to be educated in risks associated with climate change so that their vulnerability can be conceptualized and better adaptive measures can be generated.