Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller – Opening remarks at the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment High-level Panel on “Preparing for the future in the face of climate change and weather-related disasters: strengthening preparedness and humanitarian response and collaborating to build resilience and address escalating risks and challenges
Geneva, 25 June 2019
Excellencies, Distinguished Panellists, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure and privilege to be with you today at this panel discussion.
Our task this afternoon is to explore how the humanitarian system can adapt and more effectively respond to the challenges posed by climate change and weather-related disasters.
Climate change is moving far faster than we are and is already causing more frequent, prolonged and intense extreme weather events around the world. Last month, during his visit to the South Pacific, the UN Secretary-General called climate change, and I quote, “the battle of his life,” one that he noted so far “we are not winning.” In the Horn of Africa, the chances of drought occurring have increased from one in every seven years to one in every two and a half years. In fact, this is happening now; by next month, due to the impact of drought in Somalia, an estimated 5.4 million people will be uncertain of their next meal.
The impact of climate change and weather-related disasters can be seen in many other countries. They also impact men and women differently, with women and girls further burdened as they are responsible for collecting food, water and fuel. Climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable in our societies, and women comprise 70 per cent of the world’s poor.
I recently travelled to Madagascar, which has experienced only in the last 20 years, 35 cyclones, eight floods and five periods of severe drought.
I also went to Mozambique, which was still reeling from the impact of Cyclone Idai, when it was struck by Cyclone Kenneth. These two cyclones left 2.2 million people in need and are a forecast of a future when communities will have little to no time between disasters to recover, let alone, to rebuild.
Cyclone Idai also left a path of destruction in Malawi and Zimbabwe, causing a spike in food insecurity, limiting access to essential services and displacing tens of thousands of people. During my visits to the affected areas, I met many women and girls, as well as persons with disabilities, who are often hardest hit when these disasters strike.
But amid the devastation and suffering, I also witnessed the incredible resilience and determination of people who are facing adversity. The humanitarian system must do all it can to invest in and build their resilience, as well as to address the root causes of their vulnerability.
As these examples show, climate change is imposing an increasing strain on the humanitarian system, and this requires us to adapt and change.
We are already making progress.
Improved climate data-sharing, weather forecasts and early warning monitoring systems have enhanced our understanding of disaster risks.
Humanitarians are implementing dozens of initiatives to link early warning to preventive action and early response.
Governments and humanitarians have better tools and systems in place to evacuate those at risk, with information reaching people faster and more effectively than ever.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s new scale-up activation protocols support a rapid system-wide mobilization in a sudden-onset, or significantly deteriorating, humanitarian crisis.
In other words, the humanitarian system is evolving to meet the challenges posed by climate change and weather-related disasters. But much more is needed. The international community needs to put more emphasis on partnerships. We also need to continue our work to build people’s resilience, reduce their vulnerability and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Because the impact of climate change is real.
I want to provide you with some guiding questions for today’s panel discussion:
First, what are the current obstacles that challenge our ability to mitigate, prepare for and respond to the adverse impacts of climate change, and how can we overcome these challenges?
Second, what are some of the best practices and approaches that humanitarians and partners should scale up?
Third, how can donors and Member States increase their level of ambition, and investment in fighting climate change?
And the last question: how can we ensure that the most vulnerable people – in particular women and girls, persons with disabilities and the elderly – are not left behind?
The challenge is huge, and I look forward to a fruitful discussion.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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