KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to reduce the risk of disasters and adapt to climate change need to work hand-in-hand to build real resilience in communities, but separate funding pots continue to make that difficult, climate change and disaster experts said on Tuesday.
Many governments and donor organisations still distinguish between funding for development, disaster risk reduction, humanitarian relief and climate adaptation. So when a community wants to build a new road that will be higher than expected sea-level rise, for instance, where do they turn for money?
“Donors send two contradictory messages,” said Harjeet Singh, climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction coordinator for ActionAid, an anti-poverty charity. Most want a country’s climate adaptation strategy to be integrated into its other plans. But “when you go to the finance group, they say, ‘Why should we fund development? What is the specific (climate) adaptation?’”
One positive development is that donor organisations have begun forming broader consortiums and shared trust funds to pool resources and reduce the number of doors communities and governments must knock on for project funding. But “there’s a long way to go,” Singh said during a discussion at a community-based climate adaptation conference this week in Nepal.
Low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh, often judged the country most vulnerable to climate change, has made more progress than many in trying to unify efforts to reduce disaster risk and adapt to climate change, said Abdul Qayyum Mohammad of the country’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme.
For example, it now has a general “risk reduction action plan,” which combines shorter-term disaster management with longer-term climate change initiatives, he said.
Mihir Bhatt of the All-India Disaster Mitigation Institute said the Indian state of Odisha – considered one of India’s most successful in lowering disaster risks – has worked to ensure that homes and facilities destroyed in disasters are rebuilt in a way that makes them more resilient to climate change impacts, while using micro-insurance policies to help fund efforts.
“We shouldn’t miss out on disaster recovery as an opportunity to finance climate adaptation measures,” he said.
PLAN FOR EXTREME WEATHER
One problem preventing more integrated development, disaster risk and climate planning in many countries is that most development activities don’t factor in the real and growing risk of extreme weather, said Richard Ewbank of Christian Aid, a charity that works on poverty and justice issues.
Planning that incorporates climate-related risks and “doesn’t assume shocks and hazards will not happen - that assumes these things will happen” is crucial, he said.
Integration can be done in other ways too, he said. New weather stations and rain monitoring can support early warning systems for disasters, as well as feeding into the creation of long-term climate models.
Disaster warning systems – such as mobile phone alerts – could also be used to send climate adaptation information, Ewbank said. And agricultural extension agents may “need to become resilience agents instead”, he said.
ActionAid’s Singh said a key to making sure policy and funding address all the risks communities face is to determine very clearly the basic reasons they are vulnerable.
“What makes people vulnerable? Social exclusion, lack of assets, skills and basic services, and lack of secure access to natural resources,” he said, adding “unjust governments and unfair social attitudes” to the list.
To genuinely reduce risks - from disasters, climate change or other factors - work must focus not only on the obvious risks but on things like building more capacity in communities to tackle any problem that comes along or giving women equal power in negotiations, Singh said.
That isn’t easy when government and donor funds tend to be narrowly earmarked for certain activities, and those giving money demand evidence of success, which can be hard to measure and document when it comes to changes in social dynamics.
“The reason we can’t let community institutions take the lead is fear of losing control and fear of failure. Both can be very genuine,” Singh said. “We think if we hand this money to the community we lose control.
“But in a climate change context, where things are going to be a lot more unpredictable and uncertain, I don’t think we have any choice,” he said. “We have to experiment. We have to be ready to fail… We have to work toward empowering people.”