Friday, January 29, 2010

Is aid without climate adaptation a waste of time?

Tom Levitt in the Ecologist: Aid agencies are well resourced and quick to act, but not enough of them appear to be using their power to tackle the long term problems posed by climate change Aid agencies are first on the scene of many of the world's trouble spots, and often play a huge role in helping communities get back on their feet.

But many of these areas, notably West Africa and South-East Asia, are also on the front line of climate change, more vulnerable than most to climatic extremes. So when the aid agency boats, planes and trucks pull up at a disaster zone, shouldn't their staff also have a responsibility to think about the impact of climate change on the adaptations they hope to put in place?

Unfortunately, there seem to be plenty of examples of aid agencies undertaking humanitarian work which does not take climate impacts into account. International medical aid group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, admits to having no in-house climate experts or any organisation-wide plan on climate change, although one employee said that this may change with the recent Lancet publication on human health and climate change.

Save the Children, working in the Kroo Bay slum area of Freetown, Sierra Leone, has told members of the Atlantic Rising project researching sea-level rise in the area they did not want them to meet local participants in their project because it would add to their list of worries.

This, points out Tim Bromfield from the project, is despite flooding in Kroo Bay perennially destroying the slum as a result of factors related to climate change, including intensity of rainfall, storm surges and deforestation in the hills causing increased run-off.

‘Climate change is exacerbating problems that NGOs are already dealing with, and yet considerations of climate change are rarely built into projects,’ says Bromfield. ‘NGOs that seem to be best [in West Africa] already have an environmental focus'.

…However, some NGOs have been amending an existing emergency relief strategy, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), to integrate climate science into their work. DRR uses past events to help the community become more resilient to them in the future. Integrating climate science in DRR plans involves taking account of future predictions for a given area, such as flooding or sea level rises. ‘DRR enables humanitarian agencies to extend the time horizon and to mitigate rather than just respond,' says Dr. Mike Edwards, climate change programme development officer CAFOD....

A favela in Rio de Janeiro, shot by nickyd75, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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