Statement Lina Nerlander at 63rd World Health Assembly

Statement Lina Nerlander at 63rd World Health Assembly
1 June 2010

Broaden partnership and enhance preparedness to cope with the health effects of climate change

Statement by Dr Lina Nerlander, Health & Climate Specialist, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, at the Committee B of the 63rd World Health Assembly, in Geneva, 21 May 2010

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), its Member National Societies together with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre are committed to working with the WHO and governments to address the health effects of climate change. Our Strategy 2020 reiterates that the humanitarian consequences of climate change are central to much of our work. In serving the most vulnerable people, we work to integrate considerations of climate change into our programmes, raise awareness of the effects on health and document our operational experience for the benefit of the broader humanitarian community. We participate in policy dialogue at national, regional and global levels.

By the end of this year, around 60 of the 186 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies will have completed the Preparedness for Climate Change programme. This programme includes an assessment of what the consequences of climate change will be for National Societies’ work on health, disaster management and other programme areas. National Societies make an action plan accordingly, with a strong focus on building partnerships. Through this programme, National Societies will liaise with WHO and ministries of health in many countries whose delegations are here today. We are working with WHO at the global level to facilitate this process.

Through this and other programmes, the IFRC and its member National Societies are therefore already undertaking a variety of activities in line with the objectives of the WHO work plan on climate change and health.

We are working on advocacy at all levels. At the global level, the IFRC is working with WHO in the context of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on climate change on advocacy to address the concerns of the most vulnerable people. At national level, we are building the capacity of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to engage in the national policy processes on climate change.

In order to raise awareness, National Societies participating in the Preparedness for Climate Change programme produce communication materials on climate change for communities. We are also undertaking operational research specifically on how best to frame messages on climate change and its links to health in information, education and communication materials.

Partnerships are key to our approach. An important aspect for National Societies is to work with existing and new partners such as WHO, ministries of health and meteorological services. Through an internship programme, a student will be working in Delhi where both WHO and IFRC regional offices are based, to look at how we can work together at regional level.

Through operational research, we are also assessing in more detail how best to strengthen such partnerships at national level. For example, in East Africa we are looking at how National Societies and meteorological services can collaborate to use early warning information on rainfall patterns in order to take necessary preventative health actions. In southeast Asia, we evaluate how best to work with WHO and ministries of health to prepare for the risk of changing patterns of climate sensitive disease.

Although there are some good examples, there is a need to further document practical experiences on how to address changing health risks due to climate change, in particular from the perspective of humanitarian organizations. The operational research work mentioned is in partnership with academic institutions, with the view to generate evidence of how to practically address the health effects of climate change operationally at community level and in partnership with others.

The importance of surveillance in detecting changing patterns of diseases whose distribution is influenced by climate factors is well recognized. It is vital for National Societies to improve their access to up-to-date information about changing disease patterns to enable strategic planning. In the countries currently carrying out the Preparedness for Climate Change programme, we build on the current working relationships between National Societies and ministries of health to ensure climate sensitive diseases are appropriately addressed. This includes gradual changes in disease patterns as well as preparedness for outbreaks.

There is a need to strengthen health systems to cope with the health effects of climate change, including extreme weather events. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are important actors in community-based health and disaster management, and we are working to integrate considerations of climate change into planning, assessment tools and operations. This includes building community safety and resilience, keeping in mind both current climate variability and ongoing and future changes in risk.

The concept of ‘Early Warning – Early Action’ captures this use of climate information on short, seasonal and longer time scales to enable preparedness, planning and action. For instance, we work in partnership with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University to improve the quality and use of forecasts. A specific example of the benefit of early warning information comes from Mozambique where the death toll in the 2007 and 2008 floods was much lower than in 2000.

Collaboration between information providers and users, and between government and civil society, from national to local levels, was key to that success. The Mozambique Red Cross had worked closely with the national meteorological services to improve message delivery. Early warning information enabled them to activate their contingency plan which included many activities to protect health. Community-centred early warning systems also enabled timely warnings to reach local communities, and people knew what action to take.

In conclusion, we work to raise awareness and prepare communities to better manage climate risk, engage in policy dialogues. We carry out operational research to determine the best way, as an humanitarian organization, to address climate and health risks. We work with governments, WHO, meteorological services, academic institutions and other partners.

Climate change will bring new challenges to global health and new ways of working together are required. Pursuant to our Declaration “Together for Humanity” adopted by Member National Societies, together with Governments present here, at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007, we are committed to being a part of this important work and protect those who are the most vulnerable.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.