Climate declaration recognizes the growing problems of changing weather in the Pacific

Publié: 5 septembre 2013 13:41 CET

By Madeline Wilson and Patrick Fuller, IFRC

As the 44th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) draws to a close in the Marshall Islands capital Majuro, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) welcomes the commitment made in the ‘Majuro Declaration for climate leadership’ to scale up efforts to prepare for – and adapt to – the intensifying effects of climate change.

Leaders of the PIF underlined the need for urgent action at all levels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to respond urgently and effectively to the social, economic and security effects of climate change to ensure the survival and viability of all Pacific small island developing States.

These commitments come at time when the Marshall Islands is still recovering from the severe drought that affected 15 of the northern atolls earlier in the year, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency. During the drought the Red Cross deployed disaster response teams to support emergency water production across several locations on the outer atolls. Now the focus is on linking these efforts to longer term risk reduction.

“Our main priority is to help these communities to become more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns,” says Victoria Bannon, the IFRC’s operations coordinator in Majuro. “We are working with communities to help aid their recovery from this year’s drought and develop greater resilience to future hazards.”

The Red Cross operation is now focussed on ensuring that relief efforts also contribute towards long-term recovery, working with local volunteers across three atolls to repair and improve household and community rainwater harvesting systems, including installing water tanks and roof guttering.

“By engaging local volunteers we aim to build a stronger sense of ownership and ensure that the systems put in place now will be maintained in the longer term,” Bannon says.

Boston Larron lives on one of the islands of Namu Atoll. He says his whole community was affected by the drought. “We did a lot of work hauling water from the well. Some people had none and had to take water from one end of the island to the other using the communal cart.”

But the reverse osmosis unit provided by the Red Cross was a big help in providing fresh water to the community during the peak of the drought. “We learned a lot from this drought and don’t want to run into it again,” says Larron. “We definitely need to be more prepared by fixing our roof gutters. It’s important to catch every drop of water.”  

Climate change is a topic of conversation discussed daily in the Marshall Islands. “People we’ve spoken to are worried the drought will return. They are concerned about their livelihoods and basic things such as having access to drinking water – these are the ground realities,” says Bannon.

Climate change is compounding the effects of already highly variable weather patterns in the Pacific. El Niño and La Niña events cause fluctuations in rainfall and cyclone risk to Pacific Island countries, including the Marshall Islands. In the future, climate change is expected to contribute to more extreme weather events, and according to the World Bank, in the next 50 years the Marshall Islands has a 50 per cent chance of experiencing a disaster loss exceeding 53 million USD.

The drought in the Marshall Islands first took hold in April 2013. In June, the IFRC launched its emergency appeal for 803,000 Swiss francs (USD 861,000). Appeal operation updates can be found here:

Slideshow on the effects of climate change in the Pacific