Bold action is needed to deal with the consequences of climate change in the Pacific Islands

Publié: 8 novembre 2013 13:11 CET

Pacific Island Red Cross leaders – gathered for their movement’s global congress in Sydney – say climate change and rising sea-levels are just one threat facing vulnerable island nations. They want boldness on adaptation.

It’s easy to associate climate change in the Pacific Islands with doomsday scenarios such as rising sea-levels and the mass migration of entire populations. But as Red Cross leaders from the region, we are not interested in sensational headlines about a ‘sinking Pacific’ – we are concerned with taking collective action to address the challenges we face.

Throughout history, Pacific Islanders have dealt with enormous change and adversity, armed only with a strong sense of community and reciprocity as well as a rich base of traditional knowledge on which to capitalize. This inherent resilience is our starting point for reducing the risks posed by climate change and natural disasters.

Climate change, however, is just one risk that acts as another layer upon a natural climate where weather patterns are already highly variable and often irregular. El Niño and La Niña events that affect the rest of the world originate in the Pacific – causing large fluctuations in rainfall and heightening the cyclone danger to island nations. Understanding these weather patterns is a critical starting point to preparing for the future.

As well as climate change there are many other factors in the Pacific which make people more vulnerable to natural disasters, including remoteness, environmental degradation, access to water and water quality, and seismic hazards. No one thinks of the Pacific as an urban population, but now over half the region’s population live in urban areas, placing an increasing stress on finite resources such as water supply, and leaving outer-island communities still more marginalized. Addressing these risks and vulnerabilities can directly contribute towards helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Our call to the UN climate meeting in Warsaw is for governments to strengthen community resilience as a first line of defence for vulnerable people

Pacific Island Red Cross Societies and their branches have the comparative advantage of being embedded in communities before, during and after a disaster strikes. We are uniquely placed to work with communities and governments, at local and national levels, on disaster risk reduction (DRR) across the region. In the Cook Islands, for example, the Red Cross is working with communities to prepare for cyclones, providing ropes, anchors and training so families can tie down their roofs in advance of a storm. The Red Cross has a huge number of volunteers and staff in 14 National Societies across the region; access to communities; is auxiliary to the government; has a wide experience in response to emergency; and strong influence at local level institutions.

Beyond saving lives, DRR is about building on existing capacities and protecting development gains that are a vital foundation for community resilience. It encompasses poverty reduction and the protection of livelihoods. The Samoa Red Cross Society is providing families with rainwater-harvesting kits and VIP latrines to improve access to clean water and improve sanitation. It also runs vegetable-garden projects which improves food security and boosts household incomes.

DRR is also about the power of information, enabling communities to understand climate change and weather by providing simplified seasonal forecasts. Local action is the key to adaptation and empowering communities, and knowledge about climate change is crucial to informed and appropriate action.

To work on addressing the effects of climate change in the future – such as extreme rainfall, super-cyclones and coastal flooding – we must address the climate risks we face now, including the factors that contribute to vulnerability.

We welcomed the commitment made by the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year in the Majuro Declaration for Climate Change to intensify efforts to prepare for, and adapt to, the intensifying impacts of climate change. Now from Sydney, at our Movement’s biennial global congress, our call as Red Cross National Society leaders to the COP 19 UN climate meeting in Warsaw is for governments to strengthen resilience and preparedness as a first line of defence for vulnerable people in risk-prone countries.

Bold action on adaptation is needed to help avert or reduce the worst humanitarian consequences of climate change.