Time to prepare for disasters caused by climate change is now, says UN

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis in the aftermath of the disaster

2 December 2008 – The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today launched a campaign to raise awareness of the humanitarian implications of climate change, calling for improved disaster preparedness and response measures in countries that suffer most from extreme weather events.

“This campaign highlights our huge concerns about the humanitarian impact of climate change,” Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said. “Any credible vision of the future must recognise that humanitarian needs are increasing and that climate change is the main driver. We are already seeing its effects, in terms of the numbers of people affected and in the rising cost of response.”

While many view climate change as a future threat, humanitarians are seeing its impact now. In the last 20 years, the number of recorded disasters has doubled from about 200 to more than 400 per year. Disasters caused by floods are more frequent (from about 50 in 1985 to more than 200 in 2005) and damage larger areas than they did 20 years ago.

From 1988-2007, over 75 per cent of all disaster events were climate-related, and accounted for 45 per cent of deaths and 80 per cent of the economic losses caused by natural hazards. In 2007, OCHA issued an unprecedented 15 funding appeals for sudden natural disasters, five more than the previous annual record – all but one due to climatic events.

“Improving our ability to respond effectively to increasing and increasingly extreme climatic events is now a priority part of our business. This calls for a systemic shift of attention, resources and expertise to improve disaster preparedness,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

The campaign notes that the most vulnerable are impoverished people living in risk-prone ‘hotspot’ countries, where the risks from extreme climatic events overlap with human vulnerability and call for a far greater investment in preparedness within the broader context of disaster risk reduction.

Floods, storms and droughts need not be disasters, but countering these extreme weather events means we must “act sooner and act smarter,” it stresses.


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