Review of the year 2017
A snapshot of climate-related humanitarian events of 2017 through the eyes of the Climate Centre news service.
The year began with some optimism that international action on climate was moving forward – most obviously because the Paris agreement had not only been ratified quicker than hoped but had also crossed the threshold that enabled the UN to announce it was coming into force faster than expected.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), meanwhile, confirmed 2016 had been the hottest year since modern record-keeping began, with two more countries, Chile and New Zealand, reporting modern-era temperature records.
With about half of Kenya affected by drought, the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), Dr Abbas Gullet, said the situation could approach “a full-blown emergency”.
IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As, in his first major interview of the year, made the first of several calls for governments to step up efforts in preparing for disasters to cut the rising bill for helping people afterwards.
A collaboration between scientists at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the Climate Centre looked into how forecasts of flash floods might be developed – the toll from these lethal events can be high, especially in developing countries which may lack effective warning systems.
The Togolese and German Red Cross and the Climate Centre shared in the Edge of Government Award made to Togo’s Ministry of the Environment at the World Government Summit in Dubai for groundbreaking work on forecast-based financing (FbF).
The Climate Centre assisted the IFRC secretariat in convening a webinar on geoengineering and its implications for the humanitarian sector – the latter’s first major public engagement on the subject.
A new drone shoot by the Uganda Red Cross Society and the Climate Centre illustrated the climate-related challenge facing the country’s drought-affected north, as well as the hopeful legacy of community-based actions as part of the first phase of Partners for Resilience (PfR).
This was against a regional backdrop of prolonged and worsening drought across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, pushing the number of people facing severe hunger and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance to more than 11 million.
One of the highlights of the year’s work on attribution came when climate scientists from several international agencies including the Climate Centre – after a three-day conference in Nairobi – issued a detailed study of the Kenyan drought; covered widely in local media, it said there was a detectable ‘climate signal’ in the atmospheric temperatures behind the drought but no strong influence of climate change on rainfall.
The second of two Red Cross workshops was held in the Philippines centring on local plans for climate action; these are a legal requirement placed on local government in the country.
A detailed report by Thomson Reuters Foundation correspondent Zoe Tabary affirmed the basic view underlying FbF that “getting help to people before disaster strikes could help cut the growing costs of helping them after a crisis occurs”.
‘There is so much more that could be done
to protect lives and livelihoods…
by acting fast on warnings’
In the first week of the month, the International Conference on Climate Risk Management was convened jointly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Centre and hosted by the KRCS; as part of preparations for the IPCC’s ‘AR6’ assessment of the global climate.
Opening remarks were made by Ahmed Idris, Executive Director of the International Center for Humanitarian Affairs at the KRCS, and the two co-chairs of IPCC Working Group II, Debra Roberts and Hans Otto Pörtner. It brought people from at least 35 countries to find ways to reduce risk risk and vulnerability.
A KRCS video, meanwhile, including the second drone shoot of the year assisted by the Climate Centre, graphically illustrated the severity of the drought affecting the Ewaso Ngiro river basin, where pastoralists were digging for water with their bare hands.
As part of the ‘Greater Jakarta Resilience’ resilience programme, supported by the American Red Cross, the Indonesian Red Cross provided computers for a workshop for fishermen to familiarize themselves with online government information about weather and sea conditions.
Climate Centre Director Maarten van Aalst joined some 200 experts from 60 countries at the IPCC AR6 scoping meeting in Addis Ababa to draft an outline for the next global climate assessment, building among other things on the April risk-management conference in Nairobi.
A WMO statement said there was a “50–60 per cent chance” of another El Niño event later in the year, but caveated the warning with a reference to the ‘spring predictability barrier’.
The Secretary General of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, Frehiwot Worku, speaking in Addis Ababa at the first World Hydropower Congress to be held Africa, welcomed a new phase of the relationship between dam operators and humanitarians concerned with downstream impacts.
Mr Sy, leading the Red Cross Red Crescent delegation to the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico, where PfR ran several well-attended side-events, said: “There is so much more that could be done to protect lives and livelihoods, and dramatically reduce the cost of emergency response by acting fast on warnings and alerts before shocks and hazards hit.”
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), in the first operation of its kind of the year, distributed a humanitarian FbF cash grant to 2,300 households threatened by Cyclonic Storm Mora, then over the Bay of Bengal and intensifying.
PfR in Uganda hosted a workshop in Kampala aimed at promoting participation by civil society in the country’s planning for adapation, attracting nearly 60 people including ministers and senior officials.
‘Risk reduction – through planning and infrastructure
as well as preparedness, warning and response –
are more necessary than ever to meet the rising risks’
As temperatures hit 43°C in Delhi, a unique five-day training experience showed young Red Cross volunteers and staff how to stage flash mobs for heatwave awareness – much more effective than traditional ‘do’s and don’ts’ leaflets, was the verdict afterwards.
Two weeks after Bangladeshi coastal villages in the path of Cyclone Mora got an FbF cash grant, the annual FbF dialogue platform was held in Asia for the first time: three-day conference in Hanoi aimed at establishing a network of FbF stakeholders in high-risk areas of the Asia-Pacific region.
At the end of the humanitarian affairs segment of the UN’s annual Economic and Social Council, Mr Sy issued a further plea for smarter humanitarian response to climate-related disasters, presenting ideas for how communities can be helped to withstand predictable shocks, recover faster, and operate from a “very different baseline”.
Attribution scientists confirmed that climate change played an important role in the excessively-high temperatures gripping much of Western Europe.
Special sessions at the year’s CBA11 conference in Kampala used games, campfire stories, ‘data cuisine’ and other active learning methods – many of them developed by the Climate Centre – to spark excitement for work on adaptation.
A second series of cash disbursements of 5,000 taka (54 euros) each to just over 1,000 households under FbF took place in Bangladesh’s north-west Bogra district, while the KRCS used a mobile phone-driven cash programme to help nearly 250,000 people from slipping into severe food insecurity in remote areas of Kenya affected by drought.
IFRC Regional Director for Africa Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, meanwhile, wrote that starvation threatening the lives of tens of millions of people in Africa would be repeated unless underlying causes were addressed.
“With new technologies, climate prediction and historical data,” she added, “we can anticipate the onset of drought.”
In Sri Lanka, where a dengue-fever crisis was compounded by monsoon rains and floods that left pools of stagnant water – ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes – the Red Cross and the IFRC scaled up emergency assistance to address the country’s worst-ever outbreak of the viral disease.
A study in the journal Science found the timing of major floods had changed over the past 50 years across Europe because of changes in the climate – the first time a clear ‘climate signal’ has been reported in flooding on a Europe-wide scale.
With recent substantial increases in related support from major donors like the World Bank, Climate Centre specialists called for social protection systems around the world to be expanded to include “early action and preparedness”.
After heavy seasonal rainfall, the Togolese Red Cross (TRC) distributed water purification tablets and other non-food items to 2,000 at-risk households in Lower Mono prefecture downstream from the Nangbeto dam on the Mono river, as part of the FbF programme in the country.
Climate change and weather extremes are
‘not the future but the present. It’s our reality’
Category 5 Hurricane Irma cut a swath of destruction through half a dozen Caribbean nations and territories over a 36-hour period, soon after Hurricane Harvey caused historically intense rainfall in Houston, Texas, and followed by Hurricanes Jose and Maria.
With the South Asian monsoon, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of two pivotal sequences of events that changed perceptions. Dr Van Aalst later wrote that “a key point we have been making for years…is that responding afterwards is not enough.
“Risk reduction – through planning and infrastructure as well as early and better preparedness, warning and response – are more necessary than ever to meet the rising and unpredictable risks.”
The TRC carried out its second humanitarian distribution – of emergency-shelter items for just over 100 households in Lacs prefecture – in two weeks under FbF, as heavy monsoon rain threatened more villages downstream from the Nangbeto dam.
A case study published recently by the Global Disaster Preparedness Center, with input from the Climate Centre, flagged partnership aspects of the inter-agency programme for flood resilience in Dar es Salaam that ended in 2016.
More than 200 people from different Kenyan counties concluded a five-day camel trek to raise awareness of issues affecting the Ewaso Ngiro River, organized in conjunction with the PfR alliance in Kenya.
After the IFRC issued two DREF grants for emergencies centred on the Manaro volcano on Vanuatu’s Ambae island and Indonesia’s Mount Agung volcano, scientists warned the potential existed for impacts worldwide if a volcano were to erupt on a big enough scale and affect the global climate.
John Lobor, Secretary General of the South Sudan Red Cross, at an event to mark International Day for Disaster Reduction, issued a strong call for more localized risk reduction; South Sudan joined PfR in 2016.
The global launch of pilots of the Y-Adapt programme for engagement by young people in action on climate change took place in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haitien at a new regional training centre for the Haitian Red Cross, built with support from the American Red Cross.
The Climate Centre published a study of how the climate risk inherent in the 2015–16 El Niño was managed in five African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Somalia and Zambia.
The president of the Kiribati Red Cross, Martin Tofinga, told a workshop at the Council of Delegates in Antalya, Turkey – moderated by Dr Van Aalst – that “building resilience to disasters and climate is not just a priority, it’s the only path ahead”.
Climate change and the weather extremes it brings, he added, “is not the future: it’s the present. It’s our reality.”
His near neighbour, Filipe Nainoca, Director General of the Fiji Red Cross Society, meanwhile, said at the 2017 Development and Climate Days in Bonn that Fijians have a neat way of summing up the climate impacts they and other Pacific islanders face: “Higher than before, bigger than before.”
The former president of Ireland and D&C Days regular, Mary Robinson, presented the wall graphic generated at the 2017 event to the UNFCCC to be hung in their offices as a reminder of its key messages.
Mr Sy, calling climate change “a key driver of risk” in the modern world, said the IFRC’s role in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people afflicted by climate impacts will become “still more pivotal” in the future; in Bonn for the COP23 UN climate talks, he was writing in a foreword to the IFRC’s new Framework for Climate Action Toward 2020.
Together with the American Red Cross and PfR-supported Climate Centre specialists, and with peak seasonal rains looming, the Red Cross in Indonesia expanded its forecast training programme to include first-response command post staff, volunteers, disaster managers and health workers.
The Ecuadorean Red Cross became the second South American National Society after Peru’s to embrace the FbF operating model – and the first in the world to use it for a volcanic hazard.
An e-learning course on climate adaptation by the IFRC’s Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Reference Centre – the first tailored for small-island developing states – was completed by some 75 participants from the National Societies and disaster-management agencies.
Attribution scientists, in a new study, said climate change made the record rainfall that fell on Houston, Texas during Hurricane Harvey in the summer “roughly three times more likely and 15 per cent more intense”.
PfR in Indonesia supported a workshop in Jakarta to discuss a draft study of local policy and practice on disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation and their “integration into spatial and development planning”.
The Climate Centre carried Red Cross Red Crescent key messages to the One Planet Summit in Paris convened by President Macron, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres.
The summit drew 60 heads of state or government as well as many CEOs, mayors, and civil society leaders to address “the ecological emergency” facing the planet, and attract investment to reduce emissions and build resilience, highlighting how climate action depends on all stakeholders.
The two pivotal sequences of climate-related humanitarian emergencies in 2017 were the South Asian monsoon (Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, top right) and the Atlantic hurricane season (Hurricane Irma, top left). The IFRC rolled out a new framework for climate action at the COP 23 talks in Bonn, where (bottom right) participants acting as government advisers played a Climate Centre game on insurance choices. In local action in Indonesia this year (bottom left), the Red Cross helped train fishermen to use online government information about weather and sea conditions. (Photos: NASA, IFRC, Climate Centre)