IFRC study: Twin crises of climate-related disasters and Covid-19 affecting more than 50 million people

IFRC study: Twin crises of climate-related disasters and Covid-19 affecting more than 50 million people
24 September 2020

(This story is a press release first issued by the IFRC in Geneva and New York yesterday. It has been slightly edited here for length and time references.)

A new analysis published yesterday by the IFRC and the Climate Centre reveals that at least 51.6 million people worldwide have been affected by floods, droughts or storms and Covid-19.

The pandemic is increasing the needs of people suffering from climate-related disasters, compounding the vulnerabilities they face and hampering their recovery.

At least a further 2.3 million people have been affected by major wildfires and nearly 432 million in vulnerable groups have been exposed to extreme heat, while contending with the direct health impacts of Covid-19 or measures implemented to curb its spread.

The analysis, which quantifies the overlapping vulnerability of communities, shows that out of 132 unique extreme weather events that have occurred so far this year, 92 have overlapped with the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Never have I seen a stronger case
for localized humanitarian action’

Addressing media at UN headquarters in New York ahead of a High Level Roundtable on Climate Action, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “These new figures confirm what we already knew from our dedicated volunteers on the front lines: the climate crisis has not stopped for Covid-19, and millions of people have suffered from the two crises colliding. We have had absolutely no choice but to address both simultaneously.”

Across Asia and Africa, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have responded to widespread and, in many cases, unprecedented flooding that has inundated communities, swept away houses, wiped out food supplies and disrupted livelihoods.

Cruelly, Covid-19 has hampered response efforts, for instance, by increasing the burden on already stretched or limited health systems and preventing affected people from seeking treatment for fear of catching the virus.

In the Americas, Red Cross volunteers have been on the ground providing food, shelter and relief items to people affected by deadly wildfires across the western United States, as well as preparing communities for, and responding to, ongoing hurricanes and tropical storms in the region (photo).

Volatile climate

“The IFRC is uniquely placed to support people living through climate-related disasters and Covid-19 thanks to our network of almost 14 million local volunteers who have remained steadfast in their communities, even as many international organizations had to retreat,” President Rocca added.

“They have worked tirelessly to rise to new challenges – from distributing personal protective equipment to adapting evacuation spaces to support physical distancing. Never have I seen a stronger case for localized humanitarian action.”

Climate Centre adviser Julie Arrighi, said: “While not all climate-related disasters have a direct link with climate change, it is unequivocal that due to global warming we are facing a more volatile climate with more weather extremes.

“Covid-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities like never before and, as our preliminary analysis shows, compounded suffering for millions of people affected by climate-related disasters.”

The Salvadoran Red Cross earlier this year provided humanitarian aid to more than 600 families affected by Storm Amanda – a lethal cyclone that caused flooding and landslides across Central America in late May at the height of the global Covid-19 pandemic. There and elsewhere in the world many humanitarian operations were made more complex by the need to ensure precautions against the spread of the virus. (Library photo: Salvadoran Red Cross)