The burden of climate change on poor countries

from British Red Cross
Published on 26 Nov 2012 View Original

Across the planet, in every society, from the personal to the political, climate change poses a formidable challenge. It’s about restraint; producing and consuming less, sharing more.

This week the UN’s annual conference on climate change gets underway in Doha, Qatar. How we get a global collective commitment to meet necessary carbon reduction targets is a question I hope is keeping our world leaders up at night. But regardless of any political outcome, community action is more important now than ever: there may not be time to wait for a legal mandate before we start taking climate change seriously.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with communities across the globe to strengthen their ability to adapt to the challenges of climate change. This includes a focus on: preparing for and reducing the risk of disasters; securing people’s access to food; and protecting livelihoods. This work is supported by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Increasing climate-related disasters

In 2011, there were 300 climate-related disasters, which affected 207 million people. By 2015, this figure is expected to rise to 375 million people.

When I read that, I had to stop and check I’d done my maths properly. Because it means that in just three years, there will be around a 75 per cent increase in the number of people affected by climate-related disasters.

What didn’t come as a surprise, however, is that developing countries are estimated to bear 75-80 per cent of the costs of damages related to climate change as a result of droughts, floods, strong storms and rising sea levels.

Floods and landslides

Uganda is one such developing country, where around 25 per cent of the population live in poverty, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts an increase in erratic and intense rainy seasons, as well as longer drier spells. Combined with a rapidly growing population and environmental degradation the situation for thousands of people already struggling to survive, has the potential to get a lot worse.

Elgon is one region of Uganda particularly at risk, where the majority of families depend on the land to make a living and feed their families, which is putting pressure on limited natural resources. Over the last few years intense rains have led to more frequent floods and landslides, resulting in loss of lives and livelihoods. However, a new programme that includes tree-planting and a range of other risk reduction activities has been launched by the Uganda Red Cross, and supported by the British Red Cross, is helping reduce the risk of future floods and landslides.

This project is part of a wider programme which is about building resilience in communities – an approach that increases people’s skills and knowledge to deal with disasters – and is fundamental to all the British Red Cross’ overseas work.

Climate-smart food security

Another aspect of the change in global weather patterns means farmers can no longer just rely on their local knowledge in order to plant, grow and harvest their crops.

Across the Sahel and in east Africa, survival is particularly tough for subsistence farmers and pastoralists with droughts and floods destroying crops and pasture for grazing animals.

In this context, the Red Cross is increasing its focus on ‘climate-smart’ programmes, which help address the issues of communities who struggle to get enough food and water.

Kenya Red Cross

The Kenya Red Cross launched a project this year, which involved the construction of a new irrigation system feeding six large greenhouses and fields, along with three wells equipped with solar pumps and storage tanks. The project is in Wajir East District, where at least 30 per cent of the population relies on food aid, and it was rolled out using community volunteers as well as Red Cross staff and experts.

Another Kenya Red Cross ‘climate-smart’ project is in Machakos district, southeast of Nairobi, where communities are planting drought-resistant cassava – a variety developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

“KARI is one of the largest research centres in Africa, but its innovations often get stuck in the laboratory,” said James Kisia, Kenya Red Cross deputy secretary general. “Our unique partnership with the research institute, in effect, brings university to village.”

British Red Cross support

Last year, drought in Kenya left around 4 million people struggling to get enough food. The British Red Cross launched an emergency appeal to provide emergency relief.

In the aftermath of this crisis, it has continued to provide support to people in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. In addition, working with the Kenya Red Cross, it has just completed a scoping assessment in South Turkana, one of the areas worst-affected by recurring drought and where food insecurity is an ongoing issue.

A programme to help communities increasingly at risk of climate-related food insecurity is currently being developed.

Karen Peachey, British Red Cross east Africa representative, said: “Environmental degradation, changing weather patterns, conflict and disease are just some of the many problems faced by people in the arid and semi arid lands of Northern Kenya. Even in a good year, life is difficult – when drought happens the situation can quickly turn into a crisis.

“We are working with communities to help them cope better when disasters strike – only by increasing community resilience can we break the dependency on food aid which has become part of life for many communities in that part of the country.”

Visit our website for more information on preparing for disasters: