INDONESIA: Climate change worsening disasters, says UN

INDONESIA: Climate change worsening disasters, says UN
16 October 2009

Climate change is contributing to more frequent and deadlier natural disasters, and governments need to speed up measures to mitigate their impact, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, warns. Holmes, in Indonesia for a two-day visit after a deadly 30 September earthquake off West Sumatra, warned there would be more intense typhoons, flooding, droughts and forest fires because of climate change.

“Look at the trend. How many [disasters] there are and how bad they are, not only here but also in Central America, and it’s perfectly clear what’s happening and that’s what scientists said would happen,” Holmes, also the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, told IRIN in an interview on 15 October. “To me, that means there’s a link between climate change and more frequent disasters,” he said. Given this, governments should be better prepared, and take measures to reduce the impact, he said. “That means people not living in areas that are flood-[prone]; it means making sure buildings are not in areas that are flood-[prone],” said Holmes. Holmes also said recent disasters in the Asia-Pacific region made negotiations for a new climate change deal – which are faltering – all the more important. The Asian region has been hit by several disasters in recent weeks, including devastating floods in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Nepal, affecting millions. About 99 percent of those killed by natural disasters were in the Asia Pacific region, said Holmes. “Obviously it’s important to reduce emissions, that’s fundamental to stopping climate change in the end. But in the meantime, whatever we do about emissions, the results are already with us for the next 50 years,” he said. Separately, Holmes urged disaster-prone Asian countries to spend one-tenth of their development funds on efforts to reduce disaster risks. The international community spent US$12 billion on disaster relief last year. “A 10 percent figure of what you are spending on response or even on development should go into disaster-risk reduction because that is a good investment,” he told reporters.

Funding for West Sumatra
Holmes travelled to quake-hit areas in West Sumatra and met the head of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), as well as humanitarian agencies. He said the UN would release about $7 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund for aid efforts in West Sumatra, including 12 projects focusing on emergency shelter, nutrition, reopening schools and health sector support. The UN on 9 October launched a $38 million appeal to help the Indonesian government meet the needs of quake survivors. The BNPB has revised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,117, including those missing and believed buried in landslides. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest situation report on 15 October that 198,200 households needed emergency shelter. Lack of access to remote areas remains the major obstacle to providing aid to survivors, but the Indonesian Military (TNI) has agreed to deploy 500 soldiers to rebuild roads or create new access routes to affected areas, OCHA said.

Reconstruction delays
Oxfam Indonesia’s humanitarian programme manager, Sébastien Fesneau, said survivors needed tarpaulins, tents and plastic sheeting for shelter – as well as food. But he said rebuilding houses would prove a greater challenge, because the brick industry in West Sumatra had been paralysed by the quake. “It will be a problem when we are looking for adequate building materials, and this could possibly delay the reconstruction phase,” Fesneau told IRIN. Some NGOs were considering building transitional shelters using bamboo or coconut trees pending the availability of building materials, he said. Fesneau also said many survivors had been forced to sell their belongings to meet their basic needs, resulting in what he called “asset erosion”. “We will introduce a cash transfer programme targeting the most vulnerable groups to ensure their belongings will not be sold,” he said.