Dr. Robert Glasser, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, met with the leader of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, when he was sworn in this week (Photo: UNISDR)
By Jonathan Fowler
GENEVA, 20 January 2016 – Climate change is raising the vulnerability of communities around the world to a raft of hazards, including drought, storms and floods which wreak havoc on food production and public health, according to the UN’s latest Human Development Report.
The message of the UN Development Programme’s wide-ranging survey of the state of the world tallies with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which emphasizes the need to avoid creating new risk and to understand and reduce the impact of interlocking risks.
The Sendai Framework, adopted by the international community in March 2015, seeks to bring about substantial falls in disaster mortality, numbers of affected people, and economic losses.
The first in a series of four global accords put in place last year to shape the global agenda for the next 15 years, the Sendai Framework was followed by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the COP21 Paris Agreement on climate change.
“Member States in 2015 made historic agreements to eradicate poverty, fight inequalities, and secure the future of the planet. To move from agreement to action in 2016 and in the years to come, transformational changes are going to be needed in countries at all income levels,” UNDP head Ms. Helen Clark said during a briefing on the Human Development Report at the UN’s offices in Geneva.
Ms. Clark later met with Dr. Robert Glasser, the newly sworn-in head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, to discuss how the various international agendas can be leveraged for the good of the entire process.
“There clearly has to be integration between on-going disaster risk reduction programmes and climate change adaptation. The Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement share the overall goal of supporting nationally determined action which takes account of vulnerable people, disaster-prone locations and fragile eco-systems. This coherence is vital to the achievement of the overall goal of the post-2015 development agenda which is the eradication of poverty,” said Dr. Glasser.
The focus of this edition of the Human Development Report is work, and the need for decent and sustainable jobs and livelihoods for all. Climate change poses a key threat to that goal, the report underlines.
“Around the world communities are steadily becoming more vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, including loss of biodiversity. Most exposed are those who live in arid zones, on slopes, in areas with poor soils and in forest ecosystems,” it says.
“Climate change exacerbates all these vulnerabilities, fettering the choices of present and future generations. Impacts are particularly severe on developing countries and their poorest people, who often live in the most fragile ecological areas and depend directly on the natural environment for their lives and livelihoods,” it adds.
The report warns that small island developing states – precisely those most vulnerable to hazards such as storms of increasing frequency and intensity – face an “existential threat” due to climate change.
The spectre of drought is also stark.
“Water availability will be increasingly affected by climate change, which in Africa could expose 250 million people to greater water stress. In some countries drought could halve the yields from rain-fed agriculture by 2020. 91 Across Sub-Saharan Africa and South and East Asia drought and rainfall variations could lead to large productivity losses in cultivated food staples,” the report says.
The changing climate also appears to be having an insidious impact on human health – another core area of the Sendai Framework.
“The first detectable changes in human health may be alterations in the geographical range (latitude and altitude) and seasonality of certain infectious diseases, including vector-borne infections such as malaria and dengue fever, and foodborne infections such as salmonellosis, which peak in the warmer months. Warmer average temperatures combined with increased climatic variability could alter the pattern of exposure to thermal extremes, with resultant health impacts in both summer and winter,” the report says.
And more problems could be on the horizon.
“The public health consequences of the disturbance of natural and managed food-producing ecosystems, rising sea levels and population displacements due to physical hazards, land loss, economic disruption and civil strife may not become evident for several decades,” the report notes.