Posted by: Jenny | Friday, 7 December 2012

Climate change – how prepared are the world’s poorest communities?

“When Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, millions of Bangladeshis were already in newly built shelters or had been evacuated from coastal areas.  The subsequent death toll was around 4,000, compared to the 140,000 that died in a cyclone of similar intensity in 1991.  When Mozambique asked for a paltry $2.7 million in 2002 to help prepare for floods, donors only handed over half that amount.  In the floods that followed, the international community spent $550 million on emergency relief and reconstruction.”

[Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, 2012]

Drought Africa

Last week I attended a thought-provoking seminar on the topic of Disaster Risk Reduction, and I’d like to share some of what I learned.

While the climate change talks in Qatar, which end today, are focussing on mitigation opportunities for the countries that contribute most to climate change, many poorer communities around the world are facing the effects of climate change in the form of cataclysmic disasters such as floods and drought.  The response of the developed world has been to provide aid in the form of emergency relief when these disasters occur.

Mitigation of climate change is essential, and we can all play our part, however small, in reducing our own carbon footprint and that of the communities and organisations we belong to.  But in the communities which experience the most extreme effects of climate-related disasters, they are already a reality and not something that can be warded off even by the most drastic mitigation measures by governments.  So there is a need for effective adaptation measures as well.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change defines adaptation as “adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.”

The Hyogo Framework for Action was signed in 2005 and commits the participating countries to local adaptation policies and projects.  Unlike the Convention on Climate Change, the Hyogo Framework is not binding and its targets are not obligatory.  Many of these appear to focus on disaster preparedness and procedures, rather than practical projects implemented before a disaster, to reduce the extent or effect of the disaster when it happens.

Humanitarian aid agencies such as Oxfam and Islamic Relief are actively promoting projects which help communities to adapt to climate change and reduce the devastating effects of disasters.  At the same time, these agencies are lobbying for a larger proportion of governmental aid to be assigned to disaster risk reduction activities.  (The five countries worst affected by this year’s Sahel food crisis received just 12 pence for disaster risk reduction in every £100 of aid received between 2005 and 2010.)  They are campaigning on the premise that disaster risk reduction projects “offer huge potential to save lives and save money”.

Islamic Relief recently published a report on disaster risk reduction which illustrates some of the measures they have implemented with local communities:

  • In Kenya, farmers who used to keep livestock, which is easily and tragically affected by drought, were encouraged to switch to crop production and implemented an irrigated agriculture project.  This protected the community from child malnutrition in the country’s worst drought for half a century – and at barely half the cost of emergency food aid
  • In north-western Bangladesh, the community were helped to build earthen plinths to raise their villages a couple of metres above the surrounding land – and thus survived the worst seasonal flooding in their district for 24 years
  • In Mali, microdams were built to reduce the communities’ vulnerability to drought
  • In Pakistan, village reconstruction work has reduced the vulnerability of those villages to floods.

Maybe I am not in a position to influence government policy.  But I can continue in my efforts to support organisations such as Global Footsteps who work on a small scale to promote grassroots projects in some of the poorest communities, and to raise awareness in our own locality.

Children playing, Kabilpur Bangladesh

Children playing on raised land in South Kabilpur, Bangladesh

[Data and pictures taken from Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, October 2012]


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