This year has seen hundreds of weather-related catastrophes, including the cyclone in Myanmar, floods in India, hurricanes in the Caribbean and drought in Ethiopia.As climate change means a dramatic rise in the numbers of people being affected by natural disasters, humanitarian organisations need to get serious about responding to our rapidly warming world.
According to the UN, in the last two decades the number of recorded disasters across the world has doubled to over 400 per year, with nine out of ten now weather-related. The debate around climate change is no longer about proving it’s happening, but about the evidence it’s being driven by carbon emissions and the fact that the world’s poorest will bear the greatest humanitarian cost.
Clare Sayce, who leads on climate change at the British Red Cross, says: “As much as climate change is about the environment, politics and economics, it is also a humanitarian issue. We are seeing more people in crisis as more intense hurricanes, floods and droughts destroy livelihoods and create problems in getting food and clean water, increasing risk of disease.”
The UN’s 2007/2008 Human Development Report states we have less than a decade to avert the course of climate change and avoid the most catastrophic consequences. But even without the worst-case scenario there is no doubt that climate-related disasters are increasing.Building community resilience
Over the past ten years, the British Red Cross has worked with communities across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to build resilience to disasters, whether or not they are related to climate change.
Clare says: “Understanding and adapting to climate risks is one of this century’s biggest humanitarian challenges, vital to helping those who are already feeling the heat of our rapidly warming planet.
“This means working with communities in unprotected environments such as river basins, arid areas and low-lying coasts to increase their ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster.”
Protecting people whose livelihoods are dependent on vulnerable industries, such as fishing and agriculture, has to be a priority. For example the British Red Cross has worked closely with the Lesotho Red Cross to develop household gardening techniques that require low use of water, for people in drought-affected areas. But this year’s food crisis in Ethiopia shows much more needs to be done to help communities develop drought-resistant crops.Adapting to climate change
Disasters cannot always be prevented but, with the right investment in emergency planning and public health initiatives, they do not have to be as devastating.
As one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, Bangladesh is regularly ravaged by cyclones and floods. Women and children are the most vulnerable during these disasters because they lack information about what to do during an emergency.
The British Red Cross works with the Bangladesh Red Crescent to prepare vulnerable people, particularly women, for disasters. It encourages them to take on important roles in the community by sharing information on what to do when high winds or flooding are approaching.Preparing for disasters
Preparing for disasters is also an important aspect of the work carried out by the British Red Cross Overseas Branches, particularly in the hurricane-prone Caribbean. In September, when Hurricanes Hanna and Ike swept across the Turks and Caicos Islands, Red Cross volunteers helped evacuate people and used pre-positioned stock to run emergency shelters. Although recovery may not be easy, islanders at least have the resources to start getting back on their feet.
But Haiti, devastated by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in August, gives a stark illustration of how the poorest communities still suffer the most when disaster strikes. As many as 700 died, with up to 650,000 affected – tens of thousands of whom lost their livelihoods and homes.
Currently, just four per cent of an estimated $10 billion in global annual humanitarian assistance is used to prepare for disasters. Much more funding is needed to break the cycle of poverty, disaster and recovery in the world’s most vulnerable countries.
Clare says: “As well as the humanitarian argument, it makes good economic sense to invest in vulnerable communities before disaster strikes, because it saves money on recovery as well as the additional income gained from people being able to carry on their livelihoods uninterrupted.”
Retourner à la liste <<<<<