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Political Will – and Money – Needed for Disaster Management

Joshua Kyalimpa

Deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

Deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

DURBAN, South Africa, Nov 30 2011 (IPS) - Managing the impact of increased disasters due to climate change will only be possible if such efforts are led by local communities, say non-governmental organisations working in climate change.

Deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

Deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

“We cannot use the excuse of money – or the lack of it – not to do anything. Yes, developed countries have to make financial commitments, but what if they don’t?” asks Charles Hopkins of the charity CARE International in Ethiopia, an international humanitarian organisation.

A deal on climate change at Durban might still be a far-fetched dream, but climate change-related disasters are already taking a toll around the globe.

According to a report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increases in some extreme weather and climate events have already been observed and further increases are projected over the 21st century.

The Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, evaluates the role of climate change in altering characteristics of extreme events. It assesses experience with a wide range of options used by institutions, organizations, and communities to reduce exposure and vulnerability, and improve resilience, to climate extremes.

Speaking at a press conference at United Nations 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa, IPCC executive director Dr. Kristie Ebi highlighted that while total economic losses from natural disasters could be high in developed countries; economic losses expressed as a proportion of GDP could be higher in developing countries.

Ebi says the IPCC will soon start meeting policy makers and politicians around the world to urge them take up measures for disaster reduction: “We are committed to outreach events over the coming months with a hope that politicians and policy makers will be encouraged to advance climate change adaptation.”

According to the IPCC report, deaths from natural disasters occur much more in developing countries. Information obtained from 1970 to 2008 by the experts’ shows that more than 95 percent of deaths from natural disasters were in developing countries.

Most governments have, however, not put in place policies for disaster risk reduction. Hopkins says governments, especially those in Africa, have to take to protect people and their property.

“People have to be given the right information because information on disaster reduction remains at the top and often the affected people don’t even get it,” says Hopkins

Professor Richard Klein, of the Stockholm Environment Institute and a member of the international panel of experts, says people actually don’t have to rely on international agreements.

“Local actions by the people need to be supported because they are the most vulnerable and are more likely to put effort into adaptation measures,” says Klein.

Klein says risk management works best when tailored to local circumstances.

But Nurudeen Adebola Olanrewaju of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, a Nigeria- based policy centre, says that while the report talks about what people are already experiencing, more was needed to drive action.

“Risk management requires actions, ranging from improving infrastructure to building individual and institutional capacity, in order to reduce risk and respond to disasters but these require money which politician must make available,” says Olanrewaju.

A separate report released by the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), the technical arm of the Climate for Development in Africa programme, based at the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa shows that of the 29.2 billion dollars pledged since 2009, only between 2.8 and 7.0 billion dollars is “new” (i.e. not previously pledged).

The total amount of funds that are both “new and additional” (i.e. on top of aid budgets) would be less than 2 billion dollars. While 97 percent of the promised 30 billion dollars has been pledged, only 45 percent has been “committed”, 33 percent has been “allocated” and only about 7 percent has been “disbursed”.

The report released today on the sidelines of the climate talks here in Durban finds that there are many lessons to be learnt from the current “fast start finance” system. This system, agreed at the Copenhagen climate conference, was supposed to deliver 30 billion dollars in “new and additional” funding to developing countries.

Launching the report, Yacob Mulugetta, senior energy and climate specialist at the ACPC said: “The experience with the ‘fast-start’ pledges and discussions of the 100 billion dollars promise suggests that the adequacy and predictability of climate finance may remain very low if the future climate finance architecture reflects current practice.”

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