Friday, June 19, 2009

Developing countries paying an enormous price for climate-related disasters

I am just back from NYC where we launched this year's edition of the World Disasters Report to major donors, international media, humanitarian forums and, importantly, member states of the United Nations, including the wonderfully named UN office for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states - or OHRLLS for short.

This last grouping is an extremely important constituency for the Red Cross not least because these states represent the vast majority of people 'on the receiving end' of climate change, which was a central theme of our report.

Called "Early Warning, Early Action", the report advocates for improving early warning systems, taking action in advance of disasters and especially, working closely with communities at risk to improve our knowledge about the humanitarian impact of climate change while sharing forecasting data in a way that can be understood and used to alleviate or avoid disasters.

It is an accepted fact these days that while the 'developed world' has created the circumstances that have led to climate change it is the 'developing world' that bears the cost, particularily in economic and humanitarian terms.

Our report shows how this cost has become truly disproportionate and alarm bells are now ringing to take responsibility and redress the balance. Here is a sample of some of the outcomes of the research:
  • 213 million people were affected by 329 natural (and 259 technological) disasters at a global cost of U$D181 billion.
  • Developing countries are by far the most affected bearing the brunt of 76% of all disasters.
  • 99% of people affected by disasters (through death, displacement, loss of livlihoods or assets for example) are from the developing world
  • 65% of economic losses occur in developing countries (this shows that economic losses are somewhat more equally distributed, especially compared to human costs).
  • 1% of economic losses are insured in developing countries (demonstrating why the Red Cross is often called the insurance company for the uninsured).
  • People living in developing countries have a 44 times higher chance of being killed by disasters than their counterparts in the developed world.
  • In the 1990's there were approximately 200 weather-related disasters per year; between 1999 and 2008 this had risen steeply to an average of 350.
These figures (and there are many more pages of similar stats) show that there is a moral imperative and responsibility to invest in developing countries' efforts to reduce the risks of disasters. Not only will this protect lives and livelihoods but it will safegaurd development gains for future generations.

Note about the picture above: In Haiti, church bells are rung to sound the alarm when storms and hurricanes approach. This is a good example of the types of effective early warning practices which the report advocates for.

Note about "Developing Countries" - definition of developing countries is a combination of medium and least developed countries in accordance with the UNDP's human development index.

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