Humanitarian community calls for urgent action on adaptation and disaster risk reduction to protect the world's most vulnerable people

News and Press Release
Originally published
COPENHAGEN, 15 December 2009 - Vulnerable communities and humanitarian agencies have spoken out today with the powerful message that 'Climate change is already affecting millions of the world's most vulnerable - we must work together now to help them adapt'.

'Humanitarian Day' events at COP15 highlighted the urgency with which the world community needs to act, to deal with the very real challenges already affecting some of the poorest and vulnerable people in risk-prone countries, especially children and young people.

As key speakers from affected countries, NGOs, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and UN agencies noted throughout the day, these range from hunger and malnutrition, public health threats from disease, and competition over scarce resources such as water, to displacement and migration to safer and more stable environments.

Such unprecedented impacts could overwhelm national governments and global disaster management systems, warned Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, emphasizing that any agreement on adaptation must include disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness measures.

"Disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and response are vital frontline defences for vulnerable communities, especially in risk-prone parts of the world," he said. "While humanitarian organizations can help reduce the impacts of extreme weather on people, we must support governments in investing in and strengthening disaster management systems now, in order to save lives".

Helping nations and at-risk communities to swiftly and adequately adapt to the changing reality is the overarching priority for all, as evidenced by the testimony of hundreds of climate witnesses, youth representatives and humanitarian leaders today.

"Poor people in developing countries, who bear over 90 per cent of the climate change burden through death, disease, destitution and loss of livelihoods, must be central players in developing adaptation solutions that help the most vulnerable", said Barbara Stocking, CEO of Oxfam Great Britain.

Thirteen year old Sok, from Seda Commune near Kampong Cham in Cambodia, said, "We are suffering a drought and have a lot more hot weather than before, so now our family needs to pump water for our rice fields from sources further away. Our parents cannot manage by themselves, so when the situation is urgent we have to miss school to help them out."

"The interests of the most vulnerable communities will be best served by a strong agreement signed by all governments here in Copenhagen", underlined the Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Bekele Geleta. "Yet regardless of the outcomes, our focus will remain on supporting the most vulnerable and working with governments, and within communities, to reduce vulnerability."

Humanitarian-themed events continue in Copenhagen on 16 December, when attention will be drawn to the critical human security challenges of migration and displacement.

For further information on humanitarian concerns and interview opportunities, please contact:

Amanda Pitt, UNOCHA
Tel. +1 917 442 1810

Zach Abraham, IFRC
Tel. +41 79 308 9804

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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