Natural disasters are increasing. The world’s poorest are left to fend for themselves.

More than 100 disasters – many of which were climate and weather related – have affected more than 50 million people globally since March, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. And while the money to protect against such disasters in countries at risk exists, it is not reaching those who need it most.

These are the main conclusions of a new report of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, published Tuesday. In it, the authors clarify that while global attention has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic – for good reason – the climate crisis and the resulting disasters facing communities around the world are just as dire.

“This is a very, very serious crisis that the world is currently facing,” said the secretary general of the International Federation, Jagan Chapagain, of the Covid-19 pandemic, during a virtual press conference November 17. But he noted that while there is good news regarding the possibility of a vaccine against Covid-19, “unfortunately there is no vaccine for climate change.”

A Red Cross member wades through a flooded street due to heavy rains caused by Hurricane Eta in Guatemala City on November 5.
Johan Ordonez / AFP via Getty Images

The report of the International Federation, entitled “World disasters report 2020: come heat or flood, ”Use what is called“ extreme event attribution ”to show that over the past 10 years, climate and weather disasters such as storms, floods and heat waves have affected 1, 7 billion people. During the same period, an additional 410,000 lives were lost, the majority of which were in low- and middle-income countries.

The attribution of extreme events is an emerging field of science that has enabled scientists to study how human-induced climate change relates to extreme weather events. As Umair Irfan from Vox explains, in this area, “Scientists build models to assess the counterfactual of what would have happened in a certain event without climate change and compare it to the observed results.

And they found that while global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions does not directly cause hurricanes or droughts, it magnifies the risks and frequency of such events.

The authors of the IFRC report found that these disasters have been on the rise since the 1960s – and that a sharp increase 35 percent has been recorded since the 1990s. The proportion of all disasters that can be attributed to climate change has also increased, from 76% in the 2000s to 83% in the 2010s.

To make matters worse, the report found that the world’s most vulnerable people are not getting the financial help they need to withstand such disasters, even though the funds they need are there.

The report’s authors argue that the speed at which governments and banks around the world have developed economic stimulus packages is proof that funds can be raised quickly to deal with existential threats. And they want to see governments reflect that energy when it comes to dealing with the climate emergency.

A recent study, for example, has found that the money pledged around the world for the resumption of the pandemic has so far exceeded $ 12 trillion. According to the IFRC, the stimulus model created during the pandemic would be a good model for governments to generate the $ 50 billion needed each year over the next 10 years to help 50 developing countries adapt to the worst impacts of change. climate.

But they also warn that funds raised in the future cannot be distributed as aid has been to date: the report found that when it comes to receiving funding, the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change are being ignored.

Why countries most in need of climate change assistance funds don’t get it

Of the 20 countries considered most vulnerable to climate change and associated disasters, the IFRC found that none were among the top 20 countries receiving funding.

In climatology, vulnerability generally describes the likelihood that a country will experience negative impacts from storms and other extreme weather events. The vulnerability of a community or country can be measured long or short term, but it essentially involves sensitivity to damage such as natural disasters and the ability to adapt or cope with processes such as evacuation plans.

It is also a question of social protection. If houses are damaged, do people have the funds to do the repairs? Do people have savings? Or do they need to depend on the sale of cattle and then have no means of making a living?

Somalia was ranked as the most vulnerable country in the IFRC report due to high levels of food insecurity and drought, but it only ranked 71st for per capita disbursements. None of the countries with the five highest disbursements had high or very high vulnerability scores, suggesting that more can be done to reach those who need it most.

The main reason money doesn’t flow to where it’s needed most is that, as Kirsten Hagon, senior humanitarian policy analyst and IFRC project coordinator, told me, there isn’t framework for providing climate-related assistance to countries deemed incapable. to manage large inflows of capital.

Natural disasters are increasing. The world’s poorest are left to fend for themselves.

Flood-affected people receive aid in Khartoum, Sudan, distributed by the Turkish Red Crescent, part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), September 20, 2020 .
Turkish Red Crescent / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Donor countries mainly provide aid to governments. This means that in order to receive assistance, countries must have governments that are able and willing to meet criteria set by donors, such as submitting funding proposals and demonstrating financial capacity. People living in some of the worst-affected countries often lack governments capable of meeting these criteria, making it difficult for them to qualify for international aid.

The result, as Hagon told me, is that “the vast majority [of donor countries] think they will invest in safe countries and someone else will invest in more sensitive ones and no one will. And so you see examples like the Central African Republic where nothing is invested there.

While the outlook for disaster preparedness looks bleak, there are ways to save lives

According to the report, some steps can be taken immediately to help people prepare for the increasing frequency of extreme events and prevent the loss of life.

One of the most important is to focus on disaster preparedness plans at the local level rather than the national level – ensuring that communities have personalized plans that include designated signals to communicate when it is time to do so. ” evacuate and transport to shelters that can ensure their safety.

Because, as Hagon told me, “without these basic things that have to happen at the community level, that have to be designed with and by the community, then you’re not going to save lives.”

Natural disasters are increasing. The world’s poorest are left to fend for themselves.

Peter Maurer, left, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, examines renovations to an outpatient clinic damaged after a bombing raid in Ukraine on November 6.
Valentin Sprinchak / TASS via Getty Images

Donors also need to work together to identify the countries left behind and then find a way to close the gaps. They should also consider more flexible criteria that different countries can meet and be able to apply for funding.

The IFRC has also called on organizations and governments to review their own practices – and says it will start with itself, to ensure its work is ‘climate smart’, taking into account the impacts of change. climates like rising temperatures and rising sea levels when doing its job.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown how international solidarity can really work to deal with global crises and how massive sums can be generated to save lives and invest in solutions. Now, climate experts hope a similar effort can be applied in a global mission to save lives and prevent deaths from climate-related disasters in the most vulnerable communities.

“We have to scale all the things that we already know, but we have to take it to another level because this is a crisis like none that has never really been faced with humanity before,” said Hagon said.