Encho Gospodinov, Director a.i, Policy and Communications Division at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Red Cross Red Crescent disasters statistics show a worrying rise in the number of flood emergencies dealt with by volunteers across the African continent. Action must be taken if we want protect the lives and livelihoods of millions.
Over the past few years, the number of emergencies that National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have responded to has risen steeply. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of floods operations in Africa jumped from just five in 2004 to 32 in 2006 and already, by mid September 2007, stood at 42.
While these figures only cover those flooding situations that the Red Cross Red Crescent responded to, they still make for worrying reading.
The number of “medium-size” flood operations - those affecting more than 25,000 people - rose from two in 2005 to seven in 2006 and has already reached 14 by 20 September 2007. In the meantime, the number of Red Cross and Red Crescent responses to smaller scale flood operations – those affecting fewer than 25,000 people - also rose sharply from four in 2004 to 25 in 2006 and has already reached 28 to date.
Our response to these smaller scale incidents is key. In situations like this, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are often the only organisations on hand to help. Because our volunteers live in the heart of communities worldwide, no matter how remote, they are uniquely placed to help in times of crisis. These “neglected” disasters do not hit the headlines. But the suffering of those affected - people who have lost not only their homes and belongings, but their crops and livestock as well – is just as real.
While it is not unusual for Africa to experience heavy rains at this time of the year, 2007 has brought particularly intense rainfall over a wider geographic area than normal. As a result, in 20 countries in the region, the flooding can be described as “exceptional”.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) believes that the torrential rains stretching across Africa, and the flooding that has followed, is consistent with to the "La Niña" weather pattern thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
No one can say that these specific floods are directly related to climate change. However, they are consistent with the predictions of climate change analysts. The experts at our Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Hague believe that the phenomenon will raise flood risks in Africa, especially in west, central and east Africa, which is suffering the worst of the present flooding.
Climate change will also increase the risk of drought in some areas, while others may experience both floods and droughts, as was recently the case in Kenya, Ethiopia and Mozambique.
The significant rise in the number of climate related emergencies Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have responded to over the past three years confirms this analysis. There is a new trend developing and we must take it seriously.
Climate change was high on the agenda at the United Nations in New York earlier this week. We welcome debate on the issue, and look forward to discussing next steps with our humanitarian partners, but our statistics are a stark reminder that we must move from words to action if more suffering is to be reduced.