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Digesting a "mouthful" of climate change

Floods in Afor-Igwe in Amanbra State of Nigeria, July 2009
Hilary Uguru/IRIN

Disaster risk reduction as a tool for climate change adaptation is a "technical mouthful" said Rachel Shebesh, chair of the African Parliamentarian Initiative for Climate Risk Reduction.

Members of the Pan-African Parliament thought so too. The legislative body of the African Union met in Midrand, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, for a parliamentary debate on climate change in Africa.

Shebesh, the new champion of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in Africa for the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR) has been given the job of making the subject accessible.


The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, said DRR was "the first line of defence" against climate risks. Many countries did not have a plan that covered what to do to adapt to the impact of climate change, but drawing up a disaster risk reduction plan was a starting point.

''Disaster risk reduction as a tool for climate change adaptation is a `technical mouthful'''

DRR deals with the short-term changes in climate variables, such as temperature; adaptation to climate change is about long-term changes to climate. It is now widely acknowledged that reducing vulnerability to climatic variables could improve resilience to the increased hazards associated with climate change.

What does it mean?

Wahlström acknowledged that trying to explain to countries what this meant, and how to take DRR into account, could sometimes be problematic. Essentially, it is about "disaster-proofing" any plan or programme.

"You take into account the current and future disaster risks. If you are building a bridge in an area, you study the soil, ask the people who live in the area about what they know about the conditions in the area: do they build in the area? What precautions do they take? The easiest thing to do is draw up a check list."

Wahlström said she had come across several cities and towns in developing countries who had already been doing this, and "we are now busy putting all this information together for our next report."

She also said she would not be surprised if "disaster-proofing" became a pre-requisite for sourcing money for any climate change adaptation project, "but I would rather countries took up the initiative on their own." India, she said has made it mandatory for projects costing a certain amount to be disaster-proof so as to qualify for funds.

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