Q+A: Let communities guide their own adaptation, Red Cross chief says

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 16 December 2009 17:38 GMT

COPENHAGEN (AlertNet) - Communities that need to adapt to climate change can come up with appropriate adaptation ideas and do the work themselves - if they have adequate funding and freedom to use it, says Bekele Geleta, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Governments and humanitarian agencies need to ease restrictions on how money is used to adapt to climate change if they want to see fast, flexible action, he urged in an interview with AlertNet during the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

Q: How is the Red Cross/Red Crescent coping with big increases in the number of climate-related disasters? Studies talked about here at Copenhagen suggest the number of disasters worldwide may have doubled since 1980.

A: Floods, typhoons, drought, storms are all coming more frequently, and the capacity of communities is really being stretched in a big way. Our capacities are being stretched. Trying to respond is going to be overwhelming, thereÂ?s no doubt about it.

Q: What do you see communities trying to do about the growing problems?

A: Communities are trying to take action themselves. People are moving out of low areas to higher ground. If they are told rain is coming from upstream, they are now willing to move immediately. They no longer doubt the information we pass on. They are changing their attitude and outlook.

I think if they get the resources they can start caring for themselves. Communities know now what needs to be done. And they are willing. That willingness to learn and act has to come first.

Q: What stands in the way of people taking effective action to protect themselves?

A: The way we give out money and empower people to use it is very important. We have been too controlling. We are so conscious about whether this money could be lost that we tend to protect it and prescribe what people should do with it.

We have to change that around and let people make the best use of money in the way they need to. Accountability is important, obviously. But if things don't change, efforts can't take place as quickly as we want. Things will happen faster when people have flexibility. Right now the speed that things take place is a problem.

Q: Do you think negotiators at Copenhagen will be able to reach a deal to create a new treaty to curb climate change?

A: With so many heads of state here, clearly there's willingness to commit. Otherwise they wouldn't come.

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