These Will Be The Biggest Losers If We Don't Properly Address Climate Change

The world could see an increase in hunger, disease and job loss, among other devastating issues.

The United Nations has high hopes for the climate change conference currently taking place in Paris as advocates remain concerned about the growing risks for the most underserved groups across the globe.

A recent World Bank study concluded that without proper interventions, an additional 100 million people will plummet into poverty by 2030.

Those vulnerable groups will be particularly affected by the way extreme weather damages crops, as well as the loss of livelihood due to land erosion, among other issues, experts say.

“Climate change hits the poorest the hardest, and our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate,” Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group president, said in a statement.

These are the communities that will be hit hardest:

Coastal Dwellers

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While they may be aware of the associated dangers, impoverished people are still drawn to living in hazardous areas because of the appealing work opportunities they offer, the World Bank study noted. Low-lying coastal areas are one of those alluring regions, particularly due to their export-driven industries.

But those attractive spots also now face a slew of concerning risks that are “underestimated,” Mike Beck, lead marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy, told The Huffington Post. Experts typically home in on the dangers involved with flood plains and river valleys.

“It’s the people living on the coast who are most exposed, and most socially vulnerable as well," Beck added.

Such compromised regions include the coasts of Jakarta, Indonesia; Thailand and Grenville, Grenada, to name a few.

One of the risks costal dwellers face is “permanent inundation,” which means the areas can be permanently flooded. So, even if the amount of storms stays the same, the number of buildings, properties and people who will get flooded in storms will increase, due to sea level rise.

Erosion is another underestimated issue, according to Beck, which occurs due to winds pulling away more sand, which is destabilizing coastlines. That becomes worse when sea levels rise, and when we lose the "first line of defense." For example, when the coral reefs along Belize, Honduras and other areas lose even just a little bit of height, that causes much more erosion on shorelines.

However, it isn’t just underserved people living in homes on stilts who are vulnerable. Some coastal areas, like those in Connecticut, have pockets of both wealthy and poor populations who are at risk of climate change’s growing threats. Those who have the funds though, are better suited to put systems into place that could protect their homes from natural disasters.

People Living In Previously Malaria-Free Zones

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Malaria death rates have dropped by 60 percent over the past 15 years, but climate change threatens to undo that progress, experts say.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are typically confined to specific regions in tropical climates, but as the Earth heats up, those insects could be drawn to higher areas that are getting warmer, a University of Michigan study concluded last year.

"This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect,” Mercedes Pascual, senior author of the paper, wrote. "The main implication is that with warmer temperatures, we expect to see a higher number of people exposed to the risk of malaria in tropical highland areas."

And it’s not just malaria that experts are concerned about. There could be a heightened risk for other vector-borne diseases, including Lyme, dengue fever, West Nile and chikungunya.

"I’ve been surprised, impressed and a little scared," Beck, who also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said of the rise of such diseases.

Farmers And Fisherman

BANDARBAN, BANGLADESH - 2010/09/14: Jhum rice harvest festival in Bandarban - Jhum cultivation also known as slash and burn agriculture, is the process of growing crops by first clearing the land of trees and vegetation and burning them thereafter, the harmful effects of jhum cultivation includes rapid soil erosion due to deforestation of hill tops.
BANDARBAN, BANGLADESH - 2010/09/14: Jhum rice harvest festival in Bandarban - Jhum cultivation also known as slash and burn agriculture, is the process of growing crops by first clearing the land of trees and vegetation and burning them thereafter, the harmful effects of jhum cultivation includes rapid soil erosion due to deforestation of hill tops.
Pacific Press via Getty Images

Habitat loss, destruction of mangroves and increased storms, among other effects of climate change, will lead to job losses across the agriculture industry, experts say.

The rise of sea levels and increased tropical cyclone intensity is leading to coastal erosion and loss of mangroves, which has a direct impact on production. For one, it’s causing a depletion of land for rice production in Vietnam and Bangladesh, among other areas, according to the World Bank.

In one Bangladeshi site, for example, 70 percent of farmers partially or fully abandoned agriculture because of saline soils linked to sea level rise over a period of a decade, according to the World Bank.

The loss of mangroves also means a lack of timber for those who rely on that resource to sell charcoal, Beck noted. The warming and acidification of oceans is bleaching coral reefs and changing fish species distribution, which means fisherman can no longer rely on their primary resource.

And then there are the “daily disasters,” the seemingly minor weather events that can wreak havoc on a fisherman’s entire livelihood. For the small-scale fisherman, a simple storm can destroy his boat’s motor, which he can’t afford to replace, leaving him with no means to continue his operation.

“Just a little thing happens and you lose everything,” Beck said.

Poor Communities Susceptible To Hunger

School children wait by the roadside while selling wild fruits in Murewa, Zimbabwe.
School children wait by the roadside while selling wild fruits in Murewa, Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

Lower crop yields, emissions-reduction policies and extreme weather events inevitably lead to food price spikes, which can devastate low-income communities.

That risk has already taken shape in 28 developing countries. Over the course of a six-month period in 2010, food prices increased by an average of 37 percent, plunging an additional 44 million people into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

Crop depletion has become so severe in some countries that people simply have no choice but to go without food.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the country’s two Matebeleland provinces and Midlands have endured a mix of erratic rainfall, flash floods and long dry spells, Reuters reported. The food shortages are predominantly affecting children who are losing concerning amounts of weight and are dropping out of school in droves because they’re too hungry to attend and are working to pitch in at home.

"I ask my pupils why they did not come to school and they reply that it is because there is no food at home," George Sithole, a primary school teacher in Lupane, told Reuters. "The situation is grim."

Currently, 795 million people struggle with hunger, but an additional 2 billion people are expected to be affected by the issue by 2050, according to the U.N.

The U.N., however, has committed to end hunger by 2030, focusing in particular on poor people and people in vulnerable situations.

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Climate change will inundate Bangladesh -- one of the world's most densely populated countries with some of the least arable land per capita -- with “extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures,” a 2013 World Bank Report warned. Floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges and droughts are already becoming more frequent in coastal areas and in arid and semi-arid regions, the European Union's Global Climate Change Alliance reports.

"For my country, Bangladesh, the goal of combatting climate change and its impacts is crucial, as we are on the frontline of this global threat," Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrote on The Huffington Post in September, noting that the nation has experienced 50 percent more rainfall than average this year, causing serious damage to crops. "The pledges on reducing emissions submitted for the Paris climate meeting must be measurable and verifiable."

In the photo above from 2011, a man affected by floods in Bangladesh's southwest Satkhira district stands on high land waiting for a rescue boat.
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Verisk Maplecroft's Climate Change Vulnerability Index and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index rank Chad as the No. 1 and No. 2 most climate change-threatened nation, respectively.

As one of the poorest countries in Africa, Chad is not well-equipped to handle catastrophic climate disasters. Extreme weather events in the country may take the form of increasingly severe droughts or devastating floods, the Global Climate Change Alliance reports, and will take a huge toll on Chad's agriculture, livestock breeding, fisheries, health and housing.

The most striking symbol of climate change in the region is Lake Chad, which has shrunk to nearly one-twentieth of its original size since 1963, according to the U.N.

In the photo above, a boy floats in what was once one of the world's largest lakes. Other countries bordering Lake Chad -- Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon -- are also severely affected by climate change and the lake's shrinking size.

“In all, the experience of countries sharing the Lake Chad further illustrates the mutual challenge we face today and which must be collectively addressed without further delay," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Monday in Paris.
Pacific island nations
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Low-lying Pacific island nations face the daunting possibility of being completely underwater if climate change isn't addressed in time.

Kiribati President Anote Tong, whose 33-island nation of 105,000 people has an average elevation of less than 6.5 feet above sea level, said at the Paris summit Monday that Fiji has already offered to shelter its residents in the event that the islands become uninhabitable, Slate reported.

Pictured in the photo above from September, Kiribati villager Beia Tiim said the extreme high tide that used to come every three or four years now comes every three months, and most wells are underwater.

But Fiji is already faces its own climate disaster. At a gathering of Pacific island nations last month, The Guardian reported, Fiji foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola said the country was seeing a re-emergence of climate-influenced diseases, including typhoid, dengue fever, leptospirosis, and diarrheal illnesses.
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Niger is considered one of the most climate-affected countries because of its high-stakes agriculture sector, which engages more than 80 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"Niger is indeed one of the world’s most vulnerable countries because of its exposure to climate risks and its landlocked position," World Bank economist El Hadj Adama Touré explained in 2013. "Compounding this situation are the risks it faces from both internal and regional political extremism. One way or the other, all these factors affect the performance of the agricultural sector and therefore food and nutritional security."

Resources are stretched in Niger, which has the world's highest birth rate at 7.6 births per woman, and is predicted to double its population by 2031.

In the photo above from 2005, a Nigerian boy works an agriculture field with his father.
AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
Haiti is a "striking example of how this combination of physical exposure and socioeconomic conditions could lead to extreme climate change vulnerability," Columbia University's Earth Institute explained.

Haiti's climate vulnerability is amplified by over-exploitation of its forest, soil and water resources -- all of which will be further strained by a changing climate, the Global Climate Change Alliance noted.

Haiti lies in a hurricane corridor and is predicted to face more frequent and more severe hurricanes as climate change intensifies, according to Columbia.

In the photo above, a Port-au-Prince resident drains muddy water from a flooded house in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy brought extreme rains.
Democratic Republic of Congo
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Climate change is likely to strike agriculture hard and increase the spread of disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a country where nearly 90 percent of the people rely on agriculture for their livelihood, climate change will likely wreak havoc on crops with more intense rainfall and floods, landslides and soil erosion in the central Congo basin, according to a BBC report. The country can expect the opposite in the south, where the Katanga region will likely see its rainy season shorten by at least two months by 2020.

Malaria and cardiovascular and water-borne diseases also may increase as a result of the warming climate.

In the photo above, a Congolese man helps plant casava between acacia trees that will keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as part of the first "carbon-well" to be registered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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The U.N. identified Afghanistan as one of the countries most at risk of climate change and implemented a $6 million climate change initiative in the mountainous, landlocked, dry country in 2012.

Climate change increases Afghanistan's likelihood of drought, floods and desertification. The warming climate will likely disrupt agricultural and security developments after three decades of war, warns the Global Climate Change Alliance.

In the photo above, an Afghan girl walks with her sheep down a dusty street in Kabul in 2007.
Central African Republic
Ben Curtis/AP
The Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest nations, is experiencing intense civil unrest following the ousting of its leader that will only get worse with climate change.

“By building adaptive capacity, you’re really taking care of some of the development issues, and by bringing people together in a genuinely participatory process, you can really contribute to reducing the conflict and tension within the country,” Denis Sonwa, a scientist and agro-ecologist at Center for International Forestry Research, said.

Agriculture in the country is "still artisanal" without irrigation systems, Sonwa explained, which keeps it dependent on the rainy season.

Meanwhile, recurring floods in Central African Republic capital Bangui cause on average $7 million in damages and losses a year, The Guardian noted.

In the photo above, Central African Republic troops stand guard at a building used for joint meetings between them and U.S. Army special forces, in Obo, Central African Republic.
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Climate change will have severe consequences in Guinea-Bissau, which is largely made up of low, coastal areas and faces intense solar radiation, a government report warned.

The nation's reliance on rain for its irrigation-free agriculture system is already becoming a problem.

"Rainfall is becoming increasingly irregular in space and time, a phenomenon accompanied by increase in temperature, thus causing low-yield agriculture, soil degradation by intensification of the phenomenon of evapo-transpiration," the report noted.

In the photo above, farmers plow rice fields outside Contuboel, Guinea-Bissau.
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