Linking climate change and risk reduction

Publié: 17 décembre 2004 0:00 CET

Solveig Olafsdottir in Buenos Aires

From the Arctic to Antarctica, from small island developing states and disaster prone countries, from environmental and humanitarian organizations, the overwhelming message is clear: climate change is a reality, and the effects of global warming are already threatening millions of vulnerable people around the world.

These are the cross-cutting findings of scientific research presented at the tenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The meeting, held in Buenos Aires from 6-17 December, gave the opportunity for organizations such as the International Federation to talk about the need to link disaster risk reduction and climate change, especially in relation to the World Conference on Risk Reduction which will take place in the Japanese city of Kobe in January 2005.

The scale of climate change may be uncertain, but it is clear that it brings on a long-term shift in weather conditions. Extreme weather events will happen more often and with increasing severity – and it is poor populations in developing countries that bear a disproportionate burden.

They are most threatened by the consequences of climate change, but the least responsible for its impact. Vulnerable communities have less capacity to adapt to changing conditions, and are more susceptible to disasters caused by weather related hazards.

Extreme weather events cannot be prevented, but they can be mitigated. The immediate and long-term threat that climate change poses to millions of people around the world should be an integral part of pre-disaster planning, as well as the disaster management programmes of risk reduction organizations.

Disaster risk reduction is one of the core activities of the Red Cross Red Crescent national societies. The expertise of the International Federation in this sector, and its unique presence at community level due to its worldwide network of volunteers is fully recognized by the international community.

This was manifested at the climate change conference when a Red Cross representative was invited to participate in an in-session workshop with all participating states - to discuss the impacts of climate change, and how vulnerable communities can adapt to the consequences.

Marjorie Soto Franco, programme manager for the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Netherlands Red Cross in Nicaragua, presented the Nicaragua Red Cross climate change and disaster management programme at the workshop.

This pilot project aims to strengthen the resilience of communities along the Atlantic coast against climate change risks, as they are especially vulnerable to disasters caused by extreme weather events such as Hurricane Mitch, which ravaged Central America in 1998.

“Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events which annually strike Nicaragua. According to scientific studies in the region, extremes in drought and precipitation are likely to occur, as well as an intensification of hurricane activity. For this reason it is likely that more people and their livelihoods will be affected,” Soto told the participating states, as she explained the reason for the Red Cross entering this new sector through a new climate change and disaster preparedness programme, supported by the Climate Centre and the Netherlands Red Cross.

The Red Cross Red Crescent is embedded in the disaster management structures of most countries, but as the impact of global warming is a new issue for national societies they have very little or no institutional relationship with experts and policy makers in the area climate change.

“It was therefore a key method in the programme to open a dialogue with scientific institutions, the national meteorological office as well as local and national authorities and communities down to village level to create a forum for consultations and cooperation amongst all stakeholders working towards reducing the risk posed by climate change,” said Soto.

“Public awareness on climate change-related risks is very limited and new partnerships with educational institutions were set up to integrate climate change in the curriculum of schools and research programmes of universities. Awareness raising and basic climate change education was also integrated in the Red Cross disaster management programme at local and community level,” she added.

The Nicaragua Red Cross climate change and disaster preparedness programme has proven to be a success, and has resulted in much swifter response mechanism with the involvement of all stakeholders from community level and up.

The programme is based on three main components: Awareness, Advocacy and the Action. The divide between policymakers, scientists and communities has been bridged by advocacy and training. The resilience of the targeted communities has been strengthened by using existing disaster preparedness methods and mechanism, and by raising awareness at all levels about the threats posed by climate change.

The results are tangible: emergency response teams have been trained, early warning systems put in place at community as well as municipal level, and regular drills in disaster response are being held with local authorities.

Together with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre also co-hosted a side event in Buenos Aires focusing on ‘disaster reduction and climate change – opportunities for synergy’.

The Red Cross furthermore participated in an adaptation and sustainable development weekend with other humanitarian as well as environmental agencies, and chaired a special session on food security and climate change.