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Building Africa's bridge to resilience must be a joint effort

by Mami Mizutori | UNISDR
Friday, 15 March 2019 14:46 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Investment by the World Bank to help African nations adapt to climate change could be a turning point in reducing disaster losses

Mami Mizutori is the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

This is quite a week to be in Nairobi for the UN Environment Assembly and the One Planet Summit. It is rare to turn on the car radio without hearing somebody yearning for the rains to come and water the crops wilting in the fields under a scorching sun.

Further south, Mozambique and Malawi are struggling with the tragic consequences of too much water as Cyclone Idai turns into the deadliest weather event so far this year, flooding huge areas, destroying homes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.

While contributing the least to global warming, Africa is the continent most affected by climate change and the violent disruption it brings to normal weather patterns, particularly in terms of long-lasting drought.

Bringing the One Planet Summit to Africa for the first time could have been just a symbolic gesture, if it were not for the significant commitment announced by the World Bank Group this week to make $22.5 billion available for climate adaptation and mitigation in Africa from 2021 to 2025. 

More than half - $12 billion to $12.5 billion – will support increasing adaptation and building resilience to disasters such as floods, droughts, storms, water scarcity, coastal erosion and preparing countries for a low-carbon future.

This could be a significant turning point when it comes to elevating the profile of adaptation to climate change in the context of the overall global effort to reduce disaster losses, as laid out in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

For too long, adaptation has been overshadowed by the understandable focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the reality is that we are going to live with the consequences of global warming for a long time to come, even as we continue to press for greater ambition in reducing greenhouse gases.


We need a two-pronged approach - both mitigation and adaptation - and the World Bank is correct to double its investment in climate change adaptation and resilience.

This will provide a welcome boost to African countries which are still struggling to shake off the impact of the drought that affected some 60 million people - forcing many to leave home -  during the last powerful El Niño event of 2015-2016, when several governments were forced to declare states of emergency.

The continent’s resilience and coping capacity is legendary, and the threat of widespread famine during that episode was averted thanks to better preparedness and drought early warning systems.

Further work is being done to improve climate-risk early warning systems through the CREWS initiative supported by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Bank. Many countries are lacking in the most basic weather installations and forecasting systems.

However, there is still very little data available on the scale of economic losses occurring because of extreme weather events. This handicaps efforts to ensure investment in disaster risk reduction is well-targeted and helps to avoid the recurrence of future events. This is why supporting – as my office does – the development of national disaster loss databases is so important.


Of course, it is often difficult to put a price on the value of a preventive measure, as I saw for myself when I visited Kisumu, on the banks of Lake Victoria, earlier this week.

City Manager Doris Umbara took pride in showing me a small bridge that has made a big difference to the lives of a community that was regularly cut-off from hospitals, schools and markets for local produce during the rainy season. This translated into higher rates of sickness, poverty and illiteracy.

This small but crucial effort at prevention underlines the fact that the risk triggered by extreme weather events is a complex phenomenon with far-reaching social, environmental and economic impacts.

Managing existing levels of risk, and avoiding the creation of new risk, requires a holistic, multi-hazard response when it comes to designing national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction. It requires strong political leadership underpinned by support for preventive policies from the citizens.  

The Sendai Framework encourages planners and policymakers to take a broader view of risk than just the meteorological or geo-physical event itself.  

Poverty, rapid urbanization, quality of governance, environmental degradation and population growth in hazard-exposed areas are all elements in the cocktail of climate risk. They need to be taken into account whether working on separate national adaptation plans or incorporating action on climate into strategies for disaster risk reduction.