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Humanitarian cost of climate change understated CORRECTION

A cyclone-devastated home in Shoronkhola sub-district, Bagerhat district, southern Bangladesh, November 2007. Thousands of people were killed when Cyclone Sidr ripped through the area.
A cyclone-devastated home in Shoronkhola sub-district, Bagerhat district, southern Bangladesh, November 2007. Thousands of people were killed when Cyclone Sidr ripped through the area. (Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN)

Massive new funding – estimated at US$2 billion a year until at least 2015 – will be needed for disaster response programmes to deal with the global food shortages and increasing frequency of natural disasters that will be caused by climate change, the UN Development Programme warns.

“Today’s problem is tomorrow’s emergency,” Cecille Ugaz, deputy director of the UNDP human development report , told IRIN. “Basically, temperatures are going to keep rising and it’s likely we will have to keep protecting vulnerable people until at least 2050.”

“Even as we advocate for mitigation of climate change, politicians around the world have to understand that the world is already experiencing some effects,” she said.

UNDP says its calculation is a “ballpark figure”. The agency also wants donors to find an additional $84 billion [wrongly stated as $85 million in an earlier IRIN dispatch] to fund adaptation projects in developing countries, requiring an increase of development aid spending by donor countries of around 0.2 percent of Gross National Income (GNI).

Bad timing

The agency’s call for more money comes as humanitarian projects are already more than 50 percent under-funded, according to the latest UN Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) review.

Simon Maxwell, Director of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London said UNDP’s request might be optimistic.

Photo: Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Climate change is going to mean more rain in some places and less in others - and more demands on donors to help the people affected

“Let’s not overreach ourselves,” he said. “More aid is needed, but we’ll be doing very well if we manage to reach existing commitments... Our key priority is to stop countries defaulting on their existing commitments. Let’s not set ourselves up to fail.”

Emergency aid donors are currently grappling with one of the most expensive years for natural disasters on record.

Some 200 million people – 96 percent of them living in Africa - are already affected by natural disasters every year according to the UN – more than seven times the number caught up in conflict.

By mid-November 15 ‘flash appeals’ for emergency funds had been launched by the UN’s humanitarian agency (OCHA) – the most it has ever launched in one year – as floods hit four times as often in 2007 as in the year before.

All but one of the OCHA appeals were in response to climate-related disasters.

Flash appeals for flood-hit Burkina Faso received 2.3 percent of what was requested, Dominican Republic 23 percent and for the West Africa region which experienced the worst floods in decades, 25 percent.

New approaches needed

Piling on pressure for increased funding, in a report released on 25 November the poverty NGO Oxfam warned that donors as well as humanitarian agencies are struggling to keep up with the challenge of this increase in the frequency and scale of natural disasters.

“New approaches to humanitarian action are needed as well as new money,” Oxfam said. “Humanitarian response is still skewed, for example to high-profile disasters, and it will certainly be woefully inadequate as global temperatures continue to rise, unless action is taken quickly.”

And UNDP’s human development report states that the increased frequency of natural disasters seen in 2007 is likely to continue, with cyclones, typhoons, mudslides and floods happening more frequently in areas already experiencing them, and occurring in places that have not seen such phenomena before.

In addition, the world will face new hazards especially rises in sea level and temperature, the humanitarian effects of which remain to be seen.

Dry areas mostly in Africa and Asia will grow from 60 million to 90 million hectares in this period. By 2025, UNDP says 3 billion people will live in areas that have water shortages.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of people will be “water poor”, up from 30 percent now. In North Africa, water availability will decrease by 50 percent, and China and India will also be affected, UNDP predicts.

By 2080, world cereal production will have fallen by 25 percent and there will be an increase from 75 to 120 million people around the world affected by malnutrition.

More frequency and intensity

“We’re worried,” said Jenty Kirsch-Wood, a climate change expert at OCHA in Geneva, speaking to journalists on 21 November about the expected humanitarian impact of climate change.

''...The frequency of climate-related hazards is going to increase and while we know a community might be good at coping with one or two cyclones in a season, it is much to ask them to cope with three or four...''

Currently, 80 percent of the disasters that happen around the world are handled internally by national authorities and communities themselves without outside intervention but with the greater frequency and intensity of disasters predicted, that is going to change, OCHA’s Kirsch-Wood warned.

“The frequency of climate-related hazards is going to increase and while we know a community might be good at coping with one or two cyclones in a season, it is too much to ask them to cope with three or four.”

Killer epidemics like malaria and dengue fever will start occurring in areas that were previously deemed immune as rainfall shifts. Shrinking water sources will mean more cholera and diarrhoea, both common causes of death especially among children.

Climate change is expected to result in increased crop production in some parts of the world as previously arid regions get more rainfall. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in April 2007 noted that globally, crop productivity will actually increase because of global warming.

However, most of the gains will be found in northern latitudes which are currently too cold for agriculture. In lower latitudes, especially dry and tropical regions in Africa and Asia, crop productivity is projected to decrease.

The increased burden of food shortage related problems in areas that receive less rainfall will pose the greatest challenge to existing humanitarian operations, according to OCHA.

“We need to get better at understanding food security as it is probably going to come up more and more in the way humanitarian work functions,” Kirsch-Wood said. “We will have to reassess our understanding of risk and engage more with the scientific community.”

Preparedness a priority

With disasters increasing and funds likely to remain in short supply, disaster preparedness and prevention should be a priority for cost-conscious donors, according to OCHA.

Former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland calculated that $1 spent on preventing disasters from affecting people saves between $4 and $7 that would otherwise go to responding to a humanitarian emergency after a disaster.

“We know there is a need for greater preparedness but I cannot underline enough that in the current global humanitarian system there are no clear funds allocated necessarily for this,” Kirsch-Wood said.


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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