Climate Change

How climate change sparks innovation for fragile communities

People cross a flooded road in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 22, 2019. Picture taken July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC181D7AAB50

Donors are using rain forecasts to help the Bangladeshi population recover from monsoons. Image: REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Efrem Garlando
Community Specialist, International Organizations and Humanitarian Agenda, World Economic Forum
Adriana Bianco
Knowledge Management Consultant, World Food Programme
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit

A daily income of less than $2 per person is the internationally recognized threshold for extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide live below this threshold, and 85% of them are concentrated in the top 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

1 in 10 people worldwide live in extreme poverty. Image: PovcalNet Sources: World Bank, Washington, DC, World Development Indicators; World Economic Outlook; Global Economic Prospects; Economist Intelligence Unit.

Climate-related hazards are posing additional difficulties to these countries and to the humanitarian organizations that work to save and protect the millions of people in need. The University of Exeter estimates that a rise in global temperatures of 4°C would affect the lives of more than 1.8 billion people, causing devastating effects due to flash floods, droughts and higher exposure to natural disasters.

Although environmental degradation is not a new issue in humanitarian contexts, climate change is worsening the already devastating impacts of conflicts, poverty and disasters around the world.

The current humanitarian architecture already includes climate change coping strategies as a core aspect to address, particularly in peace building and humanitarian actions. In fact, an increasing number of actors are focusing on the multiple benefits – economic, environmental and humanitarian – of shifting paradigms, from a reactive climate and disaster response, to a proactive mitigation and risk reduction approach. Demonstrating the economic, social and environmental return of such resilience building activities is key to attract investments and thus protect and improve people’s livelihoods.

On average, every euro spent for resilience building activities saves between €4 and €7 that would have been spent in response to disasters. However, according to the United Nations system for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) only 3.8% of the Official Development Assistance directly supports disaster preparedness. The only way to reduce the effect of environmental disasters is to be prepared before a disaster happens. These are some possible solutions.

1. Get insurance

Developing countries are the most impacted by climate change and the least able to afford its consequences. Climate change has the potential to reverse significant development gains made in these countries.

Open access to financial services is not enough to serve people living with low incomes. However, financial inclusion might be a formidable asset to face external shocks. Humanitarian and development institutions can join forces together with private sector operators to solve such issues.

Financial organizations have now adopted a more systematic approach for their customers. Among the many different tools that practitioners are developing for people in extremely difficult conditions is climate emergency insurance, which has attracted attention among international donors.

This works in the same way as a simple home insurance policy, except that it triggers a payout from the insurer in the event of a disaster. The insured party pays a certain amount to the insurance company and receives their premium back in the event of a disaster, depending on the agreed payout and trigger. By using such an instrument, international donors can also play a guaranteed role and subsidise premium coverage to ensure full coverage even in the poorest countries.

New financing partnerships for humanitarian impact. Image: ODI 2019

The WFP FoodSECuRE programme has adopted a similar financing model by integrating models to forecast rainfall, in order to support the Bangladeshi population to recover from seasonal monsoons. This forward-looking approach has supported more than 25,000 people to buy lifesaving food supplies in preparation for severe rainstorms.

Forecast-based financing Image: WFP, 2018

2. Stay connected, don’t be afraid of technology

Fear of technology is nothing new. But the use of digital tools has transformed the way humanitarian organizations can deliver both short and long-term relief. Since 2003, UNOSAT Rapid Mapping provides 24/7 geospatial data and images to be used for early warning mechanisms and immediate provision of damage assessment, and for a wide range of emergency situations resulting from natural disasters, including floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, severe storms, fires, industrial accidents, volcanic eruptions, and humanitarian crises. These images are free and open source so that everyone can instantaneously verify the weather forecast conditions.

Similar technologies have been used in Cambodia to alert rural communities in case of incumbent flash floods so that people could be ready to evacuate. Automated systems mechanisms can facilitate and speed up the information process by ensuring broad coverage including in remote areas.

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Being prepared for a catastrophic event is not just a matter of supporting people in emergency circumstances. Anticipation rather than reaction needs to become the approach for most humanitarian donors worldwide in order to save lives and leave no one behind.

Strengthening the emphasis on local communities can break the never-ending circle of humanitarian operations. The future of crisis-affected communities ultimately lies within themselves. Building a network of local advocacy practitioners might be a good starting point.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and not necessarily of their organizations.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate ChangeFuture of the EnvironmentDavos Agenda
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