Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Ursula Mueller, Remarks on: Addressing the challenges, risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 20 Jun 2018

New York, New York 20 June 2018

As delivered

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to this high-level panel discussion.

Our task this afternoon is to explore how the humanitarian system can better address the impact of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable people, including older people, women and children.

We are already engaged in a battle with extreme weather.

The World Meteorological Organization reported 2017 as one of the three warmest years on record and the warmest without the presence of an El Niño event.

During last year, drought and other climate-related events triggered food crises in 23 countries, with over 39 million food-insecure people requiring urgent assistance. Almost 19 million people were newly displaced by natural disasters in 135 countries and territories.

In many countries, such as Somalia and Dominica, the impact of recent climate-related disasters will be long lasting, having eroded progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and requiring years of recovery.

At the same time, the humanitarian sector has never been more effective, efficient, accountable and impactful. It mobilizes more money than ever and reaches tens of millions of vulnerable people every year.

During the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, the pre-deployment of humanitarian teams and pre-positioning of aid prior to the landfall of destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean saved countless lives.

The El Niño episode of 2015/2016 was one of the strongest on record and prompted 23 countries in East Africa, Southern Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific to seek international humanitarian assistance for more than 60 million people.

Following this, the former Secretary-General of the UN’s Special Envoys on El Niño and Climate produced a Blueprint for Action, that outlined priority at-risk areas where Governments and partners should focus their efforts to prevent El Niño and La Niña episodes from becoming disasters. Complementing the Blueprint for Action, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee has developed standard operating procedures which use early warning triggers to turn early warning into early action.

Actions like these are making a real difference in mitigating the impact of extreme weather events and climate change. But we must do more to improve our response. Most disasters are predictable, and slow response hampers the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

Once clear trend is that the current appeals-driven humanitarian funding architecture does not incentivize early action. And recognizing this, change is under way across the sector.

The Central Emergency Response Fund is exploring ways to apply more anticipatory, data-driven models of funding allocated through Central Emergency Response Fund to kick-start early action, based on lessons learned from the 2015/16 El Niño response. OCHA is also working on promoting other shifts in humanitarian financing to create a more anticipatory, accountable funding model.

Taking this approach, response plans tied to contingency financing or risk insurance can enable a swift response.

The private sector can also take on some share of the risk, such as through humanitarian impact bonds.

These anticipatory approaches are data-driven, based on pre-established trigger thresholds, and not the quality of an appeal.

Lessons from the 2015/16 El Niño and the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season showed us how important it is for national, regional and international actors to collaborate in managing disaster risk. Evacuation plans and pre-positioning of assistance and aid workers saved countless lives in the Caribbean. Risk insurance also paved the way for recovery.

This panel is a timely opportunity to explore some of these issues further. With that, I would like to leave you with some questions:

  • How can we ensure that early warning leads to effective early action?
  • What obstacles hinder response and how do we overcome them?
  • How can we build capacity at local, national and regional levels to enable action to make vulnerable people more resilient to shocks?
  • How can we ensure better coordination of preparedness and response at every level of Government?

The challenges we face are considerable, but so are the opportunities. I look forward to an active discussion this afternoon.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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