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Press conference by USG for Humanitarian Affairs on new challenges presented for action as result of climate change

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John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said today that he and other humanitarian actors would push negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen to guarantee sufficient funding and action plans to help the world's poorest, most vulnerable people adapt to the changing weather patterns threatening their physical and economic survival.

"Our particular concern is that the focus should not just be on mitigation, that is, the reduction of emissions. The focus should be on adaptation to the effects of climate change now and in the next few years, and adaptation particularly for developing countries", Mr. Holmes said during a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

As unprecedented drought strips agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa and the melting of Himalayan glaciers causes greater flooding in South Asia, the global humanitarian aid community wants to ensure that a good portion of the $10 billion in annual funding proposed by rich countries to help poor countries tackle climate change over the next three years goes to disaster-risk reduction and preparedness plans. While vital, such steps to relocate and bring food and supplies to affected populations are often neglected and under-funded. "They're messages we've been trying to repeat for the past year, but we need to make sure they continue to be heard amidst the cacophony that I'm sure will be in Copenhagen", said the Under-Secretary-General, who is also United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.

In addition to Mr. Holmes, the heads of the Organization's specialized agencies and programmes, non-governmental bodies and other humanitarian actors will attend the two-week Summit, where representatives of 192 nations are gathering this week and next to seek consensus on an international strategy to fight global warming in the post-2012 period following the expiry of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Summit -- the largest ever on climate change -- aims to hammer out an ambitious deal that will include specific recommendations on mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology. On 15 December, "Humanitarian Day", Mr. Holmes and others hope to draw attention to the humanitarian consequences of climate change. It is feared that unpredictable, extreme weather will add millions more people to the 1 billion worldwide who are already "food insecure", or lacking enough to eat.

He said that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 per cent of agriculture was rain-fed, climate change was expected to cut rainfall by half by 2020. Malaria and dengue fever -- already serious public-health concerns in tropical areas -- were expected to worsen as warmer weather and greater rainfall provided optimal conditions for mosquitoes -- which spread the two diseases -- to breed and expand into new areas. Moreover, for many people and countries, climate change was not a distant threat, but a current reality. They must be given the means to protect themselves, he said.

Asked whether he and other humanitarian actors would focus on specific countries during Humanitarian Day, the Under-Secretary-General said they would cite as examples worth emulating countries that were far better equipped today than in the past to manage natural disasters on their own. Among them would be Bangladesh, where the Government's ability to adapt to cyclones had improved dramatically in the last 40 years, and Mozambique, which had improved its preparedness for flooding in the last three years.

As for the plight of the Maldives and other small island developing States expected to disappear due to climate change, he said many important factors must be addressed, such as whether to legally classify their inhabitants as "climate refugees" as a way to distinguish them from economic migrants. Severe problems would arise, but the answers were not yet apparent, he added.

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