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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

54% Increase in Number of People Affected by Climate Disasters by 2015

54% Increase in Number of People Affected by Climate Disasters by 2015 Could Overwhelm Emergency Responses

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In six years time the number of people affected by climatic crises is projected to rise by 54 per cent to 375 million people, threatening to overwhelm the humanitarian aid system, said international agency Oxfam today.

The projected rise is mainly due to a combination of entrenched poverty and people migrating to densely populated slums which are prone to the increasing number of climatic events. This is compounded by the political failure to address these risks and a humanitarian aid system which is not 'fit for purpose'. In its report, The Right to Survive, Oxfam says the world needs to re-engineer the way it prevents, prepares for and responds to disasters.

Oxfam used the best-available data of 6,500 climate-related disasters since 1980 to project that the number of people affected by climatic disasters will rise by 133 million to 375 million people a year on average by 2015. This does not include people hit by other disasters such as wars, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Just to deal with the increased numbers, the world needs to increase its humanitarian aid spending from 2006 levels of $14.2 billion to at least $25 billion a year. Even this increase – the equivalent of only $50 per affected person – is still woefully inadequate to meet their basic needs.

"The humanitarian system is a post-code lottery on a global scale. The response is often fickle – too little, too late and not good enough. The system can barely cope with the current levels of disasters and could be overwhelmed by a substantial increase in numbers of people affected. There must be a fundamental reform of the system so that those in need are its first and foremost priority," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's Chief Executive.

Oxfam says that the international humanitarian system needs to act swiftly and impartially after a disaster, investing money and effort commensurate with the levels of need. Aid is often given on the basis of political or other preferences making it unfair. In 2004, an average of $1,241 was spent for each victim of the Asian tsunami, while an average of only $23 was spent per person affected by the humanitarian crisis in Chad.

The world must change the way it delivers aid so that it builds on the country's ability to prepare and withstand future shocks. National governments, with the help of the international community, need to invest more in reducing the risk of disasters.

As climate change gathers pace, this trend is likely to continue to increase well beyond 2015. Oxfam sees climate change as one of the most pressing issues it has to grapple with and is launching its most ambitious campaign ever, Here and Now, to help tackle the underlying causes of climate change. The campaign aims to raise an additional £40m over five years to help fund Oxfam's climate change work and will mobilise the public's international conscience to lobby for a fairer deal on climate for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

The campaign will call on rich countries to commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming as far below 2°C as possible, and to provide at least $50 billion a year in finance to help poor countries adapt to unavoidable climate change.

"While there has been a steady increase in climate related events, it is poverty and political indifference that make a storm a disaster," said Barbara Stocking.

More people are now living in urban slums often built on land prone to weather shocks. More than 50 per cent of inhabitants of Mumbai, for instance, live in slums, many of them built on reclaimed swamplands. In 2005, widespread flooding in the city caused the deaths of around 900 people, most of them killed by landslips and collapsed buildings.

Hunger is on the increase, caused by drought, population density and an increasing demand for meat and dairy products in emerging economies. People are being driven from their homes – it is estimated up to a billion people will be forced from their homes by 2050 due to climate change, environmental degradation, and conflict. And finally more people are losing their jobs due to the global economic crisis.

However, despite their poverty, some countries such as Cuba, Mozambique and Bangladesh have invested heavily in protecting their people from storms. Following the 1972 super cyclone that killed a quarter of a million people, Bangladesh invested heavily in prevention and protection measures. The death toll from super cyclones in Bangladesh is in the low thousands – still far too high, but much less devastating. The experience of Cuba, Mozambique and Bangladesh shows that with sufficient help, even the world's poorest countries can better protect their citizens.

Climate is an important driver of catastrophes but conflict also is one of the agency's greatest challenges and while the total number of conflicts has reduced over the years, a number remain intractable. "Entire generations of people have been displaced three, four or five times, and know nothing but armed violence and displacement," said Stocking. More than 18 million people could not get enough humanitarian aid because of conflict in 2007, according to UN figures.

Oxfam will continue to be a leading front-line agency that responds to humanitarian crises but it will also be increasing its investment in programmes that help to reduce poor people vulnerability to disasters.

"Climate change is already threatening our work to overcome poverty, increasing the pressure on an already-difficult task of bringing relief to millions. It is crucial that we tackle climate change head-on. We need governments to raise their game. The world must agree a global deal to avoid catastrophic climate change, stop the fickle way it delivers aid, and radically improve how it responds to disasters.


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