Climate change creating new complex emergencies

Published: 29 June 2007 0:00 CET

Alex Wynter and John Sparrow in The Hague

28 June -- Climate-change impacts are creating new complex emergencies around the world, above all in Africa, according to speakers at a conference in The Hague organized by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

The rapid succession of drought-flood-drought was causing almost permanent disaster conditions in some parts of Africa, according to Abdishakur Othowai, drought project manager at the Kenya Red Cross. Large numbers of people were being displaced and ending up in camps, where the HIV rate then soared.

“Once people would have thought all this was an act of God,” Othowai added, “but it’s been going on for ten years now and they’re saying the weather has changed, the climate has changed.”

“There is no single, normal season; no cropping season for farmers.

“Our policy now is to tell people that we have to adapt because this phenomenon will be with us for a very long time.”

Opening the conference, on “the humanitarian consequences of climate change”, International Federation deputy secretary general Ibrahim Osman said global warming had also “intensified conflict and tension in places like Darfur” and was now “a International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement issue”.

The Red Cross Red Crescent, according to Osman, had always focused on humanitarian consequences rather than the scientific debate about the role of carbon emissions.

Climate change would be prominent on the agenda of the Movement’s international conference this November, he said, where spreading knowledge about vulnerabilities and pledging more resources would be “the two main pillars.”

The Movement should work mainly on the humanitarian consequences of extreme weather, as this was already covered by its long-standing mandate, according to Madeleen Helmer, head of the Climate Centre, which is hosted by the Netherlands Red Cross and was set up in 2002 as a reference point for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Many environmental organizations were already campaigning on carbon emissions, said Helmer, but hardly anyone was looking seriously at what climate-change impacts were doing to vulnerable people in poor countries.

A few speakers – Allan Bachan of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross, for example – said their National Societies were also getting involved in explicitly environmental work.

“Adapt everything”

The conference, which ended yesterday, brought together Red Cross and Red Crescent disaster managers from the regions of the world most affected by climate-change impacts, including the small-island nations of the Pacific and Caribbean, and Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as European Societies, the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Walter Cotte, the veteran disaster manager of the Colombian Red Cross, said that because of climate change his country’s two rainy seasons now sometimes joined up to make one.

Miriam Chin of the Palau Red Cross told delegates that because of rising sea levels “fifty years from now my country will be gone unless strategies are put in place”.

The representative from Tuvalu Red Cross, Tataua Pese, said people there were being set against each other as land disappeared: “Our highest point is only four metres above sea level. We are 100 per cent vulnerable to this problem.”

“Disasters are translating themselves into chronic situations,” said Ian Burton, a scientific adviser to the Climate Centre and a leading contributor to “Working Group II” – on impacts and adaptation – of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There was an urgent need for “a long-term strategy”.

“We have to adapt everything,” he said.

Weather-related disasters

The International Federation was one of the first non-environmental organizations to acknowledge the threat climate-change impacts pose to vulnerable people.

Its concerns were first raised in the 1999 World Disasters Report, which has consistently highlighted the sharp increase in weather-related disasters over the past decade.

Earlier this year the International Federation’s annual appeal for the first time identified climate change as a key priority.

Thirty Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are now running programmes designed by the Climate Centre to integrate climate risks into the existing Red Cross Red Crescent disaster risk reduction efforts.

Nahr el-Bared - field report from the Lebanese Red Cross (20 May to 26 June)

Despite announcements that military operations in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared had ended, fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam continues. The ongoing violence is hampering relief and evacuation operations carried out by the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) inside the camp, working with the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC), in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

An intermittent lull allowed more than 5,000 families (around 22,000 persons) to flee Nahr el-Bared, but, according to unconfirmed reports, several hundred families may still be inside Nahr el-Bared camp. They face very difficult living conditions, with no power or water, no means of livelihood, and shortages of medical items and food.

Because of the fighting it is becoming harder and harder to bring supplies into the camp and evacuate the wounded and civilians. The most recent delivery of aid to Nahr el-Bared camp, 760 kilos of food, took place on 20 June.

From 20 May to 26 June, in cooperation with the PRCS, and in coordination with the ICRC and the Lebanese army, Lebanese Red Cross emergency medical teams transported 450 wounded people, 59 corpses, 320 sick people and 1016 civilians fleeing the camp.

Aid is also being provided to displaced families in the Palestinian camp of Beddawi. Over that period, some 70 tonnes of food were provided. LRC volunteers are also documenting the number of displaced persons in Beddawi camp and evaluating their needs.

Since 13 June, LRC youth volunteers have been managing two displacement centres at Beddawi camp set up in two public schools, containing 87 families (nearly 500 people). Working in cooperation with PRCS volunteers they are distributing food parcels and humanitarian aid, and have set up welfare, cultural and health information activities for children, youth and women, as well as psychological support programmes.