Review of the Year 2018

Review of the Year 2018
19 December 2018

A look back at our engagement with the climate-related humanitarian events of 2018 through the eyes of the Climate Centre news service.


The first month of the year included two important developments for forecast-based financing (FbF), which has now ended it with some 20 National Societies developing early action protocols for foreseeable disasters.

With over half of Mongolia facing a third consecutive winter dzud, the IFRC expanded its operation for the 2016–17 disaster and complementing that effort – with support from the UK government – the Red Cross began implementing an FbF operation developed by the Climate Centre to reduce the risk, the first ever in Mongolia.

Two-thousand households in 40 districts at extreme risk got cash grants and animal-care kits to help them through the winter.   

The Netherlands-based IKEA Foundation announced it was donating 10 million euros to assist Red Cross early warning early action in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – focusing on people exposed to droughts and floods, especially the large refugee populations in the three nations.

At the height of the southern hemisphere summer, as Australians again struggled to stay cool in unforgiving heat the Bureau of Meteorology reported that 2017 had been the country’s third-hottest since national records began in 1910.

But setting the pattern for another year of extremes, Bangladeshis emerged from a severe cold snap that claimed the lives of nearly 30 people and saw near-freezing temperatures that “broke all records”, according to local media.


At the World Government Summit in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates named the IFRC as a key partner in its new two-year global Climate Project to generate climate-related initiatives assisting 10 million people worldwide by 2020.

Under Secretary General for Partnerships, Jemilah Mahmood, in Dubai for the summit with Secretary General Elhadj As Sy, tweeted that the IFRC was delighted to be selected and FbF had also been identified as a key tool.

In Kuala Lumpur, the World Urban Forum heard a call from the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement for greater accountability after disasters that may leave survivors bereaved and struggling to find shelter, food and water.

Better policy-making and planning were needed to “humanize recovery, along with more investment in DRR [disaster risk reduction], climate adaptation and greater engagement with communities,” said Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Regional Director in Asia-Pacific.

A report from the Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC) said the three-and-half-year Protracted Crisis Programme for Ethiopia’s Somali Region had reached nearly 40,000 people with food-security initiatives.

More than 33,000 others, nearly half of them women, had benefited from work on water security by the programme – a Netherlands-supported partnership between the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, the NLRC, the Climate Centre and Wetlands International.

The President of the Haitian Red Cross, Jean-Pierre Guiteau, expressed the hope that a Partners for Resilience (PfR) initiative heralded the “harmonizing of a joint vision for an early-warning system for the Artibonite river basin involving the National Societies of Haiti and the Dominican Republic”.

With winter holding its grip on the northern hemisphere, meanwhile, the IFRC called on people to check on neighbours, relatives and friends who could be at risk.


Coinciding with the start of the peak flood-season in the Peruvian rain forest, a three-day inter-agency assessment mission led by the Red Cross took in isolated northern communities dotted along two rivers that merge to form the Amazon.

The mission comprised local officials, volunteers from the Peruvian Red Cross, FbF specialists from the German Red Cross and the Climate Centre, and experts from the Peruvian meteorological and hydrological service.

After a two-day workshop in Lusaka, Zambia became the latest country to embrace the FbF model as a potential component of its national strategy for managing flood risk.

Concern began to mount about thousands of people from Burma’s Rakhine state who would soon be exposed to monsoon cyclones and rain in Bangladesh, while the IFRC warned people across the Balkans and Eastern Europe that they could be at risk from flooding as a sudden rise in temperatures saw snow and ice thaw rapidly, swelling rivers and lakes.

Combined with heavy rain, this caused flooding in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.


Ten African national meteorological services were represented at the first FbF dialogue platform to be held on the continent, hosted by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in Nairobi, while the Ecuadorean Red Cross began scoping work for a new German-supported FbF programme to centre on the danger from volcanic ash clouds – the first National Society in the world to deploy FbF for this hazard. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the names of more than 700 experts who will work on its next report on the global climate, the sixth, known as ‘AR6’, including three scientists from the Climate Centre.

A week of intense activity by PfR and other agencies in the Philippines produced agreement on steps to reinforce legally mandated local action on climate in Cebu province, while in Guatemala’s Santa Rosa department, PfR said that through Wetlands International it had trained more than 350 school teachers on integrated risk management and resilience.

Red Cross Red Crescent and PfR specialists joined government leaders and other stakeholders in Bonn for UN climate talks at which guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement were being developed – a process that culminated at the end of the year at COP 24.

                                              ‘We think this is a game-changer’


In one of the pivotal developments of the year, a ground-breaking forecast-based humanitarian action fund, supported by Germany, to mitigate disaster was launched by the IFRC.

“We think this is a game-changer, not only for the Red Cross and Red Crescent but for humanitarian action as a whole,” said Pascale Meige, IFRC Director of Disaster and Crisis Prevention, Response and Recovery.

The fund uses a combination of predictions and historical data to set triggers for the release of money for early action.

The new fund was outlined later in the month by the IFRC’s Kara Siahaan, FbF Senior Officer, at the 2018 UR Forum in Mexico City, which attracted more than 1,200 experts and specialists from around the world “to examine the critical role of risk communication and disruptive technologies in disaster risk management”.

The Bonn climate talks that the Climate Centre joined in April ended after experiencing – in parallel to the formal negotiations – the first airing of the long-awaited Talanoa Dialogue.

“Some 250 people shared their stories, providing fresh ideas and renewed determination to raise ambition,” the UN said, including, for the Red Cross Red Crescent, Manila-based Climate Centre Technical Adviser Donna Lagdameo.


Another major FbF success was registered in Peru when, with parts of the country suffering extreme cold and heavy snow, the authorities declared a state of emergency that included two districts where – ten days earlier – the Peruvian Red Cross had carried out an FbF distribution, advised by the German Red Cross and Climate Centre.

Nearly 400 family packages with heavy coats for adults and children, tarpaulins, and animal-care kits for vitally important alpaca herds were distributed by the PRC to ten communities.

The Climate Centre helped to organize the Adaptation Futures 2018 conference in Cape Town – the first time the biennial event has been held on the African continent; it saw an extensive programme of engagement by the South African Red Cross and PfR agencies.


The month of July alone would have guaranteed this year’s place in the climate history books.

Just as the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was winding up in Mongolia, a period of record-breaking seasonal rainfall was wreaking havoc in Japan, soon to be followed there by a lethal heatwave.

In a part of the world popularly associated with extremes of cold, cities across eastern Canada suffered a deadly heatwave early in the month, with at least 70 deaths reported in Quebec province alone.

In another unexpected heatwave, “with some 70 fires blazing, large and small,” according to the Swedish Red Cross, a combination of very little rain and hot weather put many parts of the country at extreme risk of forest fires.

A World Weather Attribution study showed that climate change and its impact on rainfall made the chronic drought in South Africa’s Western Cape province about three times more likely.

And although wildfires anywhere are always the result of a cluster of factors, the terrible fire in the Greek coastal resort of Mati – one of the worst disasters of its kind in Europe since the Second World War – was also linked to extreme heat.

In all these extreme-weather events and others – the drought in North Korea, for example – the Red Cross Red Crescent was prominent in the response efforts, and the IFRC and its Climate Centre in seeking to provide insights into their causes.


The theme of extremes at opposite ends of the wet-dry spectrum continued in August with three intense weather-systems in five days causing floods in the Philippines that affected nearly 2 million people.

The IFRC said that with the monsoon in full swing, the Red Cross Red Crescent was working 24/7 to “to give early warnings, evacuate people and respond in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines”.

“Many scientists agree that very intense rainfall as part of tropical storms and seasonal monsoons in East Asia is a key risk in a warmer world,” said Erin Coughlan de Perez, Manager, Climate Science at the Climate Centre.

The Australian Red Cross, meanwhile, launched an appeal to help local farmers and communities living in severely drought-affected regions, and North Korea declared a state of emergency because of a life-threatening heatwave that also seriously affected farming; in Europe Spain and Portugal were facing their hottest day in recorded history.

NASA and the Climate Centre jointly hosted a workshop to explore new ways to link disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response with NASA’s Earth Observation capability.

In an op-ed piece, Climate Centre Maarten van Aalst discussed recent pessimistic media coverage on climate that had suggested “[t]he world is losing the war against climate change”.

The Hague-based Project Coordinator Sanne Hogesteeger travelled to India as part of a visit to project sites in Odisha and Gujarat states by the PfR South Sudan country team – two of the six states in which the programme continues to be implemented. (Similar visits were undertaken to the Philippines by the Ethiopia and Uganda PfR country teams, and to PfR sites in Indonesia by the Kenyan and Philippine PfR teams.)

                                      ‘Follow the science’


Germany pledged to intensify strategic cooperation on FbF within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement at the Berlin global dialogue platform.

We published a story about a Climate Centre game, Buzz about Dengue, played in the French Indian Ocean territory of Réunion against the backdrop of an outbreak of dengue fever that caused the French emergency-response plan, ORSEC, to be raised to just short of its highest level.

Experts from the governments of Ecuador and Peru, their specialist agencies, the two Red Cross National Societies and the Climate Centre met in the Ecuadorean port city of Guayaquil to plan early action protocols under the IFRC’s new forecast-based action fund.

It coincided with the run-up to the rainy season that would normally start in December, and was also a response to the forecast likelihood of an El Niño that could herald extreme rainfall.

The Climate Centre helped a Ugandan Red Cross specialist, Joel Kitutu, attend a ground-breaking short-course on disaster risk by a consortium of 12 African universities at Dar es Salaam’s Ardhi University.


Coinciding with the launch of the IPCC report setting out predicted impacts of 1.5°C and 2.0°C rises in the global temperature, the IFRC said climate change was already making emergency-response efforts “more difficult, more unpredictable and more complex”.

Later that week a historic Climate Science and Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva heard from Elhadj As Sy that for many people climate change had become a “matter of life and death – it’s that simple”.

The historic event was jointly organized by Switzerland, the Netherlands, Fiji, the IFRC and its Climate Centre, the IPCC, and the Climate Action Network.

Welcoming the publication of the IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2018, Dr Van Aalst argued that the year had “been hugely significant for the climate-related component of the IFRC’s mandate” and the report reflected this. 

“It contains much useful detail about the humanitarian possibilities opened up by scientific progress in forecasting,” he said, “and, just as importantly, the growing willingness of donors to support” FbF.


The Climate Resilience Roadshow initiative expanded its consultations to Africa with an event at the University of Nairobi, jointly organized with the KRCS International Center for Humanitarian Affairs.

Roadshow events, supported by the PfR and BRACED programmes and partners such as Action on Climate Today, were also held also in London, Singapore, Manila and Dakar.

Thirteen British universities and other agencies met in London to launch a series of ‘catalyst research projects’ within the SHEAR programme, focused on the understanding of weather-related hazards, the events they trigger, and ways to improve resilience in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Nearly 40 young volunteers from 15 branches of the Guatemala Red Cross took part in a Y-Adapt workshop that also included Climate Centre games and a strong message on rolling back plastics pollution.


The last month of the year has been dominated by the COP 24 UN climate talks in the Polish city of Katowice, after which IFRC Under Secretary General Jagan Chapagain welcomed progress on a rule rook for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Mr Chapagin also attended a high-level roundtable on resilience, where he said the world needed to move “away from debate on value for money toward value for people”, and the regular weekend Development and Climate Days event, which heard a strong call at its closing event for the development and humanitarian communities to “follow the science”.

Reflecting our expanding collaboration with the ICRC, including the series of climate and conflict
round-tables that begins next month in Nairobi, D&C Days included a special session on conflict: Alima Arbudu, a specialist at the International Committee’s Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy Division, said humanitarians had “a role to play and a responsibility to take by helping people we work with adapt to the consequences of climate risks and shocks.”

But the year is closing very much as it opened: with a sharp focus on extremes. New research summarized in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society showed “clear ties between today’s extremes and human causes” in both the developed and developing world.

Specifically, droughts in the US Northern Plains and East Africa, floods in South America, China and Bangladesh, and heatwaves in China and the Mediterranean “were all made more likely by human-caused climate change”.

Clockwise from top left: IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy announces its new German-supported forecast-based action fund (at left is Peter Felten, Head of the Humanitarian Assistance Division at the German Federal Foreign Office); FbF in Mongolia; Jagan Chapagain (centre) at COP 24 in Katowice; Rakhine people who have taken refuge in Burma – probably the single greatest humanitarian concern of the year, but mercifully there was no major disaster in the camps triggered by the monsoon. (Photos: Mongolian Red Cross-IFRC-Climate Centre)