By Meinrad Burer, Climate Change Mitigation, IFRC
Most often it is the world’s most vulnerable who feel the brunt of environmental degradation and climate change.
From rural villages and remote islands to sprawling metropolises, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have witnessed and raised the issue of environmental degradation as a major factor in disaster risk with immediate consequences on the lives and livelihoods of the people they serve.
The extent to which communities understand the importance of managing their natural resources in a sustainable way is key to how resilient they will be to future natural disasters.
Sustainable support and strong commitment to promote greater public adoption of environmentally sustainable living is therefore critical, to enable healthy and safe living within ecological constraints.
Mohammed Omer Mukhier, head of community preparedness and risk reduction at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the Red Cross Red Crescent network is taking serious steps to promote environmental values and practices through advocacy and social mobilization. “We are also looking throughout the network, on how we can reduce the environmental impact of carrying out our work, by taking action to reduce our institutional carbon footprint and by mainstreaming environmental considerations within our relief and recovery operations,” he said. Moreover, National Societies are working with communities across the globe to strengthen their resilience to climate and environmental challenges. “The expertise of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers in disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts, and their continued and trusted presence within local communities, holds great potential for an effective implementation of environment-friendly behaviours.”
For example, in Indonesia and Nicaragua, the Red Cross implemented solid waste management, minimization of litter and recycling programmes, leading to a decrease of the amount of rubbish going into canals and rivers and clogging drains, thus reducing the risk of floods in the area.
The distribution of fuel efficient stoves by Red Cross volunteers in Uganda and Guatemala has minimized the use of firewood and contributed to reducing deforestation. The use of the improved stoves has also delivered health and socio-economic benefits to poor communities. Besides reducing respiratory infections, the use of these stoves have also reduced the risk of uncontrolled fires and burns. In addition, it gives people the time to participate in other revenue generating activities instead of collecting firewood.
The Colombian Red Cross has been assisting families living in high risk areas due to coastal erosion to relocate to safer grounds. The society is also working with local businesses, forming Green Committees made up of employees of these local companies to raise awareness on and champion good environmental behaviour.
The Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit was developed soon after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami through a partnership between the American Red Cross and the World Wildlife Fund. It was originally tested in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and has since been used in Chile, Haiti, India, and Pakistan to make sure that recovery programmes include environmentally sustainable considerations. The development and implementation of the toolkit provide a great basis for further environmental stewardship initiatives, which the Red Cross and Red Crescent are well placed to carry out because of its large network of volunteers and presence in almost every community across the globe.
“While still building on community-based interventions, action is also taking place at scale,” said Mukhier. “Take for example the Viet Nam Red Cross, which has been planting and protecting mangrove forests along the coast since 1994, with the support from the IFRC.”
Today, according to Mukhier, these mangroves represent 4 per cent of mangroves in Viet Nam and are effective carbon sinks that contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change. They also are the first line of defence against rising waters and so will have a marked influence on the scale of devastation during a typhoon or storm surge.
Similarly, the Kenyan Red Cross Society and the IFRC have launched the Sustainable Environment Restoration Programme (SERP), together with the Kenyan Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, with the aim to plant and care for 2.5 billion trees by 2018, restore river basins, conduct environmental education in all schools and manage solid waste to tackle environmental degradation and climate change consequences.
“More than ever, we need to embark on effective – and adequately funded – resilience-building measures, which will also address environmental degradation issues, starting with the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world,” said Mukhier.