Poverty and climate vulnerability are linked

LETTERS: Malaysia's ambitious decarbonisation pledges are commendable.

However, our pursuit of a greener tomorrow cannot rely on energy grids and carbon footprints.

We must recognise that the fight against climate change is interwoven with the fight against multidimensional poverty.

In Sabah, Kelantan and Sarawak, individuals and communities are disproportionately vulnerable to extreme weather events.

This creates a vicious cycle — poverty limits resources and resilience, making communities less able to adapt to climate shocks, and remaining trapped in poverty.

In Peninsular Malaysia, specific areas emerge as hotspots of poverty, notably northeast Kelantan and Hulu Terengganu. These areas are not only grappling with absolute poverty but are also highly susceptible to climate-induced challenges, particularly floods.

This serves as a strong reminder: our poverty maps are also vulnerability maps. Poverty and vulnerability to climate change share a symbiotic relationship, with one exacerbating the other.

Addressing poverty becomes a crucial step towards mitigating the impacts of climate change, and conversely, climate-resilient poverty alleviation strategies should be at the forefront of Malaysia's development agenda.

We must recognise that absolute poverty fails to capture the complexity of poverty, especially in districts vulnerable to extreme weather events. These regions are not adequately represented when we solely rely on absolute poverty data.

A correlation is noticeable between poverty and vulnerability to climate change, particularly in flood-prone areas. If we accept this hypothesis, in the absence of a thorough climate change vulnerability assessment, a multidimensional poverty assessment can serve as a viable alternative, and vice versa.

This has important ramifications for policymakers since it implies that assessments of the susceptibility of the environment to climate change can be used interchangeably with poverty studies, offering insightful information for sound decision-making.

The government should also prioritise multidimensional poverty assessments in newly emerging flood zones in urban and rural settings. This exercise would not only necessitate building climate resilience in areas with high absolute poverty rates but also identify new areas struggling with different dimensions of poverty.

These areas might have been missed by traditional absolute poverty maps due to the focus on income data. However, we know that poverty is multifaceted and a multidimensional poverty index (MPI) offers a broader understanding, encompassing dimensions such as education, health, and living standards, in addition to income.

Moreover, in the pursuit of climate resilience, it is crucial to consider new strategies such as increasing access to weather-indexed insurance. This can be a transformative step, helping households safeguard their assets and recover quickly from the aftershocks of extreme weather events. Incorporating insurance into climate change adaptation strategies is vital for increasing the poor's potential to adapt and build resilience.

Malaysia's green future cannot be built on a foundation of vulnerability. As we chart our course towards a decarbonised tomorrow, let us embrace a double vision: tackling climate change while simultaneously lifting our most vulnerable communities out of multidimensional poverty.

By integrating poverty alleviation and climate-resilient development, we can build a climate-ready nation that is not only environmentally sustainable but also socially just and resilient.


Postgraduate, Sustainability in Science, Universiti Malaya

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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