Building community resilience in a changing climate

Published: 3 May 2013 20:44 CET

Sudden flooding kills at least 46 people in Argentina. 70,000 people affected by unusual cold wave in Serbia. Famine – a visible result of climate change in Eastern Africa. Typhoon Bopha forced 250,000 people to flee. In 2012 extreme weather events became a common story and affected millions of people around the world.

Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are always on the scene to respond. But the need to limit the humanitarian consequences of climate change has been an important part of the work of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) during the last decade. Environmental threats such as climate change are inseparable from the Movement’s mission of building safer, more resilient communities.

Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing all of us. Its effects will be felt more in some regions than others – generally affecting developing countries that are less able to cope.

If over the centuries human societies have been able to adapt to environmental change and climate variability, today the speed and intensity of change is outpacing the capacity of both human and natural systems to adapt, slowly eroding the resilience of ecosystems and human livelihoods.

“The most vulnerable should be at the centre of disaster risk reduction, as well as national adaptation planning,” says  Meinrad Bürer from the Community Preparedness and Disaster Risk reduction department at IFRC in Geneva. “Due to their volunteers being part of many vulnerable communities, Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies are well placed to address the humanitarian consequences of climate change, notably by integrating climate risk management into existing community action plans.”

To tackle rising risks, experts highlight the need to integrate the full range of risk management approaches, from better preparedness and response to long-term disaster risk reduction, building on existing capacities, but with a stronger focus on anticipation and resilience.

“Strengthening community safety requires the use of scientifically robust information which is produced by regional and national climate expertise. However this information is rarely tailored to the needs of the humanitarian community,” Bürer says. “ Another one is to ensure that vulnerable people are provided with a free, timely access to the information they need so as to enhance their adaptive capacity and to allow for a range of effective actions to be taken.”

One way to overcome those challenges is to establish innovative partnerships between different actors and experts in the field of climate change and disaster risk reduction. For example, the IFRC will co-host a side event at the Global Platform on Disaster Risk reduction at the end of May. Participants will share experience and lessons relevant to building community resilience in a changing climate, and to examine ways to improve cooperation.