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Coping with climate change

[Mozambique] Aerial view of flooded houses
The 2000 floods in Mozambique caused a humanitarian crisis (WFP)

Given the impact of natural disasters on Southern Africa in recent years, and the risk that global climate change will bring more of the same, two major aid agencies have called for greater investment in preparedness and risk reduction.

A new study by the United Kingdom's Department For International Development (DFID) has warned that there could be an increase in the frequency of natural disasters, such as floods and drought, due to global warming.

In a statement marking the International Day for Disaster Reduction on Wednesday, the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent (IFRC) noted that lives and livelihoods could be saved by investing more resources in disaster prepardness.

Since 2000 the region had experienced "a variety of disasters, ranging from Cyclone Eline, ... which left a trail of destruction in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, [to] the recent floods in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia" the IFRC said.

A two-year drought had seen more than 14 million people in the region needing food aid and the cumulative impact of these disasters on vulnerable communities was growing each year, as many had not fully recovered from the effects of one disaster when hit by another.

The IFRC senior disaster management officer for Southern Africa, Tamuka Chitemere, noted that "many governments of disaster-prone countries do not invest in preparedness because some disasters are a once-off event, but the effects are long-lasting".

"We believe hazards don't always need to become disasters ... we can save lives and resources by investing in disaster reduction measures," he added.

Françoise Le Goff, the Federation's head of the regional delegation for Southern Africa, said disaster preparedness "through proper early warning systems and other mitigation measures will certainly pay in saving lives and livelihood protection".

Apart from the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, the region had experienced disaster-induced outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, the IFRC noted, and urged the private sector and donor community to "play their part".

"Disaster risk reduction has not attracted sufficient funding or political commitment to have a noticeable impact on the lives of the most vulnerable communities in Southern Africa. From a cost-benefit perspective, there is every reason to invest in disaster risk reduction, rather than wait to respond to disasters when they occur. A risk-reduction programme for floods in Khartoum State, Sudan, in 2003 cost US $70,000, while relief operations for a flood disaster in the same region a year before cost US $1.5 million," the IFRC explained.

"While we appreciate the efforts by our partners and donors in providing relief and reconstruction assistance, we are advocating that they dedicate more resources to disaster risk reduction efforts - this can go a long way in reducing unnecessary human suffering and reconstruction costs," Chitemere added.

The DFID report, 'Adaptation to Climate Change: Making Development Disaster-Proof', warned that global climate change could "result in more frequent or severe disasters and climatic shocks than experienced to date" and that this "provides further grounds for integrating risk management into development practices, and for considering strategically how to integrate long-term climactic change in risk management".

Average temperatures worldwide have been rising and "dramatic and variable changes to extreme events are occurring due to climate change". Although it "is not possible to predict the future frequency or timings of extreme events ... there is consensus that the risk of drought, flooding, and cyclone damage is increasing, and will continue to do so."

An increasing risk of natural disasters meant that "climate change will increase the poor's vulnerability and make pro-poor [economic] growth more difficult", DFID argued.

Following the floods in Mozambique in 2000, the "real annual growth rate fell by 7 percent, 700 people were killed, 150,000 homes were washed away and numerous livelihoods were affected," DFID noted.

As evidenced by the humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa, "disasters are devastating for developing country economies and recovery is slow". Furthermore, the immediate impact of natural disasters on the economies of developing countries was "typically 20 times worse than in industrial countries subject to similar natural disasters".

Disaster risk reduction needed to be included in the poverty reduction plans of developing countries.

"Mozambique published its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in April 2001, and within it recognised the impact of natural disasters on poverty, following the devastating floods in 2000 and 2001," DFID observed.

"The PRSP requires formulation of a contingency plan for natural disasters and increased capacity for predicting extreme events. But taking a magnifying glass to the PRSP reveals that risk reduction is not addressed in all the sectors, with noticeable gaps in the infrastructure and health sectors," the report added.

The World Bank's staff assessment had suggested that greater appreciation of the risks of natural disasters to each sector was warranted and, in the light of the severe impact of extreme events, "a priority for social protection should be retained".

"By contrast, the Bangladesh interim PRSP has effectively included risk reduction in each sector, after involvement of the civil society groups that pressed for this approach," said DFID.

The IFRC, meanwhile, has announced that, "As a result of the lessons learnt during the years of floods, drought, tornados, food insecurity and the effects of HIV/AIDS, the Federation in Southern Africa hopes to start an intensive and widespread risk-reduction programme in Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia in 2005."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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