Aidex Voices

Last week AidEx attended the UN OCHA and SDC co-chaired event, Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week in Geneva. In the first part of our overview of key learnings from the event, we share specialist feedback on the relationship between climate change and the humanitarian system, and what solutions lie at the heart of meeting growing global needs.   

Our response system today is effective, according to the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator UN OCHA, Mark Lowcock.

Speaking at the opening of Inter-Network Day, Lowcock pinned the expansion of the humanitarian sector to the sheer growing needs around the world, but remarked on the reduction of lives lost, which shows we are getting better at protecting and saving the lives of those caught up in crises.

“Compare aid delivery during the famine in Ethiopia in the eighties- which was essentially dropping food packages. In today’s world we need comprehensive responses based on coordination and collaboration,” he contended.

Four steps to meet growing needs:

  • Use data such as that in the Global Humanitarian Overview to identify need.
  • Support the coordination of effective response plans.
  • Support humanitarian fundraising appeals.
  • Implement plans with the money that is raised.

Three sets of projected challenges:

Conflict

In 2020, the nature and drivers of humanitarian crises around the world means a more difficult year lies ahead compared with the last, with the single biggest problem causing crises being geopolitics.

Declining compliance in warfare to international conventions established following WW2 is exemplified by the number of attacks on health facilities part of the humanitarian response. Last year alone there were over 800.

Climate change

The second biggest driver of need is climate change. From storms hitting the Bahamas to wet events like floods in the Horn of Africa and droughts affecting southern Africa and central America, the level of need today is double that of 20 years ago.

Associated with these extreme weather events are incidents like the huge locust threat in Somalia and Kenya which has the potential to become the most devastating plague of locusts in living memory, and “we don’t expect to see a slow down or decrease of these climate-related events,”Lowcock stated.

Pandemics

From measles outbreak to Ebola and the Coronavirus, our immunisation systems have weakened. “There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to deal with measles outbreaks”, he stressed.

Solutions:

  • Achieving the SDGs because, “richer and more resilient countries can deal with crises better”.
  • Diplomacy because countries must get better at conflict-resolution.
  • Sustaining and continuing to improve the humanitarian response system as needs outpace our ability to respond to them.
  • Responding earlier to crises to deliver more effective, cheaper action and is possible with the help of new technology.

Tools and approaches to mitigate climate risks in humanitarian settings 

Working together to do things better at scale

“The last year has been a wake-up call,” and at the heart of preventing the most vulnerable from being left behind is justice, commented UNHCR Climate Action Advisor Andrew Harper.

 Bringing a sense of urgency to the discussion, Harper stressed the imperative for project timeliness to be immediate, rather than in three, six, or 12 months’ time. Impassioned, he argued:

“We don’t have time for the slowly but surely moving forward approach – questions and deadlines for actions aren’t happening the pace they need to. The climate emergency is overwhelming.”

Harper stressed the need for us to improve dialogue to reduce the gap between scientists and humanitarians and urged for tools and technology to be affordable and accessible to populations at scale – not just for the loudest and most educated:

“Keep it simple and use what communities already have. There is no need to reinvent what exists. Then work with national authorities to increase the scale of implementation,” he advises.

The biggest challenge is having sustainable impact. Which is why partnerships, Harper emphasises are key to transforming opportunities into successes, so it does not make sense for us to engage in isolation. Therefore, a comprehensive data set target is necessary.

“If we don’t do a better job on preventing displacement, then more developed states will have an obligation to protect.”

Interdisciplinary settings will drive us forward in how we succeed

Speaking on behalf of NASA, Dr Shanna N. McClain, Program Lead, Risk Reduction & Resilience at the American space agency asserted the importance of collaboration and shared learning to find shared solutions.

To get justice we need to create more science-based perspectives by taking necessary risks and creating a common dialogue for all parties, McClain argued.

 Stronger preparedness systems to reduce children's vulnerability 

Championing youth involvement

“Girls in particular are disproportionately shouldering the cost of the burden,” says UNFPA’s Nadine Cornier, who draws attention to the increasing exchange of sex for goods in crisis settings. Rape, abduction, trafficking, early pregnancy and child marriages are all common consequences. There is a perceived impression by families in these contexts that marrying their daughters can help to reduce the burden they face.

Promoting youth leadership is important when planning for disaster, as we must consider age, gender and social economic contexts, Cornier says, because if there are floods and girls are not being taught to swim for instance, then they are more likely to die.

Climate change is a huge determinant of how much more likely children are to suffer, argues Nancy Claxton of IFRC, pointing out the staggering statistic that almost half of all deaths under the age of five are malnutrition associated. Those who survive may be victim to irreversible growth stunting.

Despite young people (18 and under) representing 30% of the world’s population and 50% of those in developing countries, children are not often involved in assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation at any stage.

Claxton strongly advocates a mandate which involves and empowers children to help them understand this is their issue. “It is our responsibility to educate them to be able to come up with solutions to reduce risk,” she says, referring to a games-based curriculum which teaches children to make healthy choices to avoid malnutrition for instance.

Paediatrician Dr. Nigel Rollins, representing the WHO raised the issue of a data gap when it came to the impact of mothers’ wellbeing on children in humanitarian contexts.

“We miss breastfeeding out in disaster response, but we know from other settings when a mother is stressed it’s more difficult to produce milk. How do you achieve helping women and their children together in the first 48 hour response?” Rollins queries.

When 1 in 8 births occur in fragile environments and 250 million children are involved in conflicts, we need to look beyond cognitive child development because thriving is about being happy and reducing stress for mothers in those moments, he suggests.

When children are paying the highest price of climate change, we must strike a balance between the drive for profits and the impact it is having.