* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Failing to plan for climate change will be similarly damaging and costly
By Kanmani Venkateswaran is Senior Research Associate at The Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, which is a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance.
This time last year it was hard to imagine that a pandemic would have consumed the minds of disaster management experts. But here we are in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis that has resulted in a global humanitarian reckoning.
This threat is so grave it has brought economies to a screeching halt, exposed our vulnerabilities, ignited long-simmering social and political unrest, and highlighted how interconnected we are.
As the pandemic rages, the long-forecast climate crisis has arrived. We need only look to the severe flooding in South Asia this year, to the catastrophic wildfires in the western U.S. or the recent devastating bushfires in Australia to understand that developed nations are as threatened as fragile states by climate change.
The world’s resources have necessarily been mobilized to tackle the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s never been more important to ensure that our response and recovery to the pandemic form part of the essential work taking place globally to build community resilience to natural hazards and climate change.
A future pandemic is something that we’d be crazy not to plan for, now that we know the colossal cost to the global economy, measured in trillions of dollars, and the huge impacts to our way of life that have resulted from COVID-19.
Failing to plan for climate change will be similarly damaging and costly. The COVID-19 crisis must be the wakeup call humanity heeds to increase funding to help the most fragile and climate vulnerable communities prepare for and build their resilience to natural hazards.
Fortunately, there is growing agreement concerning the need to build resilience into our COVID-19 recovery globally, in ways that help us cope with both current and future challenges.
Yet, as revealed in our recent report At What Cost, wealthy nations are in danger of failing to meet their climate finance commitments to the world’s most fragile states.
The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (The Alliance) is leading by example.
The Alliance is 24 months into a five-year global program aiming to support 2 million people – from countries like Peru, Bangladesh, and the Philippines – to cope with climate change, build their resilience to flooding, and strengthen their disaster risk reduction practices. We also strive to influence decision-makers to improve policies and commit more funds to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
For example, the Alliance facilitated the establishment of community groups and brigades in Nicaragua and Mexico to help build flood resilience. Members of these groups were trained on different topics to support flood resilience, from evacuation and first aid to communication with local authorities. They also strengthened relationships between local government and the communities.
When the COVID-19 crisis emerged, these groups utilized their skills to leverage relationships fostered to manage the impacts of the pandemic in their communities.
At the funding and policy level, by July this year, the Alliance had influenced $243 million of commitments and spending on flood resilience.
Alliance partner, the London School of Economics, together with Zurich UK helped influence the doubling of investment in flood and coastal defenses in England in 2020, to £5.2 billion with £2.6 billion to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021.
It will take time to see the results of the policies we have improved, whether or not flood resilience spending commitments are honored and how improved investment impacts the lives of the vulnerable. But these experiences have given us insights that are relevant for building back better on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are learning how to manage compound risks caused by overlapping natural hazards, lessons critical to avoiding further devastation of already reeling communities and nations.
Building multi-hazard community resilience requires investment and political will from wealthy countries and donors. Communities and practitioners must also be enabled to implement locally owned projects that reduce underlying vulnerabilities and risk, and support climate change adaptation.
Together, these efforts, from the local to the global, will help communities around the world to thrive in a multi-hazard, post COVID-19 world.
On the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction, that’s something worth pondering.