From Chernobyl to the Aral Sea: unfortunately the history of our region has been marked by significant environmental disasters. But did these events also have an impact on the social fabric of the affected communities? And, if so, how would it manifest itself? This was one of the questions we were interested to explore as we set to investigate the issue of social inclusion in our regional Human Development report.
As the chart above indicates, according to our Social Exclusion Survey, the magnitude of social exclusion is 15 percent higher in areas affected by environmental disaster than in areas where such disasters have not occurred. So the impact is significant (and disproportionally felt by young people, as we show in the report). But this is not all. If we dig deeper into which type of exclusion is more prominent, we can see that, in areas with environmental damage, it is economic exclusion that accounts for the biggest share (38 percent) of the social exclusion index, as opposed to exclusion from social services in non-affected areas. One way to interpret this is that environmental disasters hit the economy by disrupting production linkages and forcing qualified workers to migrate. Investments are also likely to decline.
An interesting finding from the survey is that environmental disasters might have unexpected positive externalities. Exclusion from participation in civic and social life contributes least to social exclusion in affected areas. This might seem counter intuitive but, as the recent case of the tsunami in Japan has shown, environmental disasters encourage people to rely on informal networks and community action. Could this be the cause that leads to stronger social networks and involvement of civil society?