Five lessons from the Global South on climate-related disasters
Recurring climate disasters: lessons from the Global South
Devastating floods have swept across the world in recent weeks, sending a deadly reminder that no one is safe from the climate emergency and disasters do not discriminate. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events is not new – it's a reality the Global South has been dealing with for decades. The recent events should be a wake-up call about the need to invest more in adaptation and localisation.
The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) is a joint effort by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). For the past five years we have worked with business federations around the world, helping small and medium enterprises prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. Here are some lessons drawn from our work in disasters-prone areas.
1. We are already dealing with the consequences of the climate crisis
The past two decades have seen a sharp increase in extreme weather events, with evidence linking them to climate change. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s latest report on The Human Cost of Disasters showed that the number of climate-related disasters rose almost 100% in ten years, from 3,656 (1980-1999) to 6,681 (2000-2019). A recent analysis by the World Meteorological Organization suggests that the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural hazards is a result of climate change. The hardest hit are often those who contribute the least to global emissions, such as small island development states. Fiji, for example, emits about 2.38 tons of CO2 per person every year against more than 16 tons per person in the United States. The island nation’s very existence is now threatened by the climate emergency, as the rapid rise in sea levels and saltwater intrusion have made portions of Fiji already uninhabitable.
2. Adaptation is key to reducing the consequences of climate disasters
From China to Germany, recent floods have exposed our global vulnerability to the climate emergency, and the need to invest heavily in adaptation and mitigation measures. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, recently wrote that "the challenge before us is not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to invest in adaptation to save lives, reduce economic losses and protect critical infrastructure”, underscoring the need to make urban areas more resilient to floods and storms. This means building dikes and flood barriers, improving drainage systems, and raising riverbanks, among other urgent actions.
Countries everywhere in the world have to learn to live with increased risks, through stronger Early Warning Systems, improved preparedness, and more systematic anticipatory approaches to humanitarian response. In this area, we have a lot to learn from countries in the Global South. For example, after historic floods claimed hundreds of lives in 2016, including several first responders, the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management in Sri Lanka (A-PAD SL), a CBi Member Network, collaborated with the Navy and several private companies to train volunteers in search and rescue. The network also developed a Business Guide to Floods, providing quick tips on how to prepare and mitigate the risks for their business operations.
These types of approaches have helped reduce loss of lives in disasters. They need to be adopted in a greater number of countries.
3. We need to make localisation a reality by supporting private sector engagement
The humanitarian community has for years called for increased involvement of local stakeholders in disaster response. Yet the debate on localisation often overlooks the private sector. Local businesses can play a crucial role in localisation, especially when it comes to quickly mobilising emergency assistance and making response faster and more efficient.
For example, the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC), a CBi Member Network, was at the centre of the response to Tropical Cyclone Harold in April 2020. VBRC activated its preparedness measures, including telecommunications teams, to reconnect the islands after the cyclone, and it provided shipping and logistics services to support relief and recovery efforts. VBRC also conducted damage assessments and helped supply over 35 tons of food and other items to 1,000 remote coastal households. Since then, the network has partnered with Oxfam to set up a cash transfer programme using innovative blockchain technology to benefit vulnerable communities and support local businesses affected.
The impact and speed of VBRC’s intervention was exemplary, despite a severe lack of funding: at the start of the emergency, VBRC had a dedicated budget of only 20,000 US dollars. To increase their impact, private sector networks should be able to apply for and benefit from humanitarian emergency funding on the same basis as UN agencies and NGOs.
4. Sharing private sector experience in managing disasters help strengthen community resilience
More broadly, engaging the private sector in disaster management is key to a better preparedness, response and recovery. It's also a smart thing to do. Local businesses are intrinsically linked to their community: employees, customers and suppliers are a part of it, making the companies that work with them a part of it too. Active engagement of the private sector in disaster management can be key to community resilience and vice versa.
At CBi, we aim to transform the way the private sector engages before, during and after crises. We're building on the experience of the past five years and sharing this knowledge with private sector networks interesting in participating in building community resilience.
The Philippines, one the most disaster-prone countries in the world, is leading the way in this area. Our partner the Philippines Disaster Resilience Platform (PDRF) has developed several business guides and tools and offered support to countries in the region. Their series of blogs #SafeInAStorm outlines their experience of strengthening business continuity during disasters for companies of all sizes.
5. There's no time to lose. Climate solidarity needs to start now
We need climate solidarity: international funding should aim at supporting local actors that are already implementing efficient solutions to the climate crisis to prepare for, respond to and recover from weather-related events. We also need to take into consideration local solutions that emanate from the Global South, as a new way to look at crisis response.
At CBi, we stand in support of all communities and countries affected by extreme weather events, and encourage knowledge sharing across borders both geographic and political. It is only by working together and focusing on our common humanity that we will be able to learn from each other, adapt, and enable more resilient communities. These five lessons are derived from our work with our Member Networks, but we hope they are useful to public and private sector entities worldwide as the climate crisis crescendo puts us all at increasing risk.