Increase in Climate-linked Disasters Intensifies Demands on the Humanitarian Community
Nairobi, 19 November 2009 - Climate change is putting increasing demands on the humanitarian community, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Wednesday at its first-ever global meeting in Africa.
"World powers expect humanitarian actors to face continuing or increasing humanitarian needs driven by climate change-related natural disasters," says the survey, which was released just three weeks before the start of the crucial UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen.
The IFRC-commissioned survey, entitled 'Believe in Humanity', was released as hundreds of delegates from the 186 national societies of the Red Cross/Red Crescent gathered for their week-long General Assembly in the United Nations compound in Nairobi, Kenya.
"Here in a country like Kenya one can already see the signature of climate change in terms of droughts and most recently floods - challenges which your organization has to respond to with ever more frequency and urgency," said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, in his opening remarks to the meeting on Wednesday. "Climate change unchecked is likely to trigger increasing tensions over scarce natural resources."
'Disasters and conflict' is one of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)'s main priority areas, and the organization has so far operated in more than 40 countries, often in collaboration with front-line organizations like the IFRC. Through its Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch in Geneva, Switzerland, UNEP deploys teams of experts using state-of-the-art science and technology to assess environmental damage and determine risks for human health, livelihoods and security in post-conflict and disaster situations.
Since 1999, UNEP has responded to the environmental impacts of conflicts and disasters in over 25 countries. Most recently in its assessment of Sudan, it linked environmental problems such as land degradation, deforestation and the impacts of climate change as threatening the Sudanese people's prospect for long-term peace, food security and sustainable development.
"There are many other examples where, with environmental planning, the situation might have been sustained or improved, rather than having declined," stressed Mr. Steiner.
The Nairobi meeting is also marking the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and the 150th anniversary of the battle of Solferino that left tens of thousands of soldiers dead and prompted Swiss businessman, Henry Dunant, to found the Red Cross movement, which today is the world's largest humanitarian network with millions of volunteers.
"No country has barred IFRC staff from accessing victims of war and disasters on account of sovereignty. Such influence could be used to rally people to care for the environment to prevent disasters," Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga told delegates on Wednesday.
The meeting is taking place as countries begin to prepare for the historic climate talks next month that will also define the future role of humanitarian work. "In just a few weeks' time governments will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the crucial UN climate convention meeting. The decisions taken there may shape the future of this century in terms of human vulnerability and disaster management as a result of the impacts of global warming," said Mr. Steiner.