The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis

The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis

Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises worldwide. Climate-related disasters are driving increased levels of risks, vulnerability human rights abuses, disrupting livelihoods, increasing displacement, influencing the spread of diseases, worsening global public health and threatening lives overall. The past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record, and 2022 is estimated to be among the hottest, with a mean temperature of 1.15°C above pre-industrial times. This is taking an exceptionally heavy toll on glaciers, with initial indications of record-shattering melt and record levels of ocean heat.

Disasters triggered more than 60 per cent (23.7 million people) of the newly recorded internal displacements in 2021. Ninety-four per cent of these displacements were climate related. Countries that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change also saw 95 per cent of all conflict-related displacements in 2021. Almost all conflict-related refugees who returned in 2021 (99 per cent) returned home to countries on the front line of the climate crisis, making safe and sustainable solutions harder to achieve.

Climate change continues to exacerbate the frequency and intensity of disasters, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable people. The effects of these disasters deepen inequalities and exacerbate pre-existing human rights, and social and structural vulnerabilities. Floods and storms accounted for 91 per cent of disaster displacements in 2021, a year that saw 432 individual disasters. If current trends persist, the number of disaster events per year is projected to reach 560, or 1.5 large-scale disasters per day. An extreme-heat event that would have occurred once in 50 years in a climate without human influence is now nearly five times as likely.

As temperatures rise, water scarcity continues. Despite progress in recent years, 2 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and 1.5 million people die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water, most of them infants and small children. Wide geographical disparities exist, and every day, millions of women and school-aged children, often girls, walk long distances to fetch water for the family. Only one third of health-care facilities in Least Developed Countries have water available from a safe source. Progress towards universal access to water is threatened by the impacts and uncertainty of climate change, agricultural and ecological needs, competing financial priorities and existing threats to water quality.

People caught in humanitarian crises contribute the least to global warming, yet they are the most vulnerable to its impacts. Of the 15 countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis, 12 had an internationally led humanitarian response. Those countries contributed less than 0.2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. The majority of the emergencies are protracted crises, such that humanitarian workers have become a constant presence and lifeline for affected communities. By the end of the century, deaths from extreme heat are projected to be comparable in magnitude to all cancers or all infectious diseases and staggeringly unequal, with people in poorer countries seeing far greater levels of increase.

A cascade of historic flooding across South Asia

Following the devastating floods in Pakistan in June 2022, around 33 million people have been affected by the heavy rains and floods. They include at least 7.9 million people who have been displaced, of whom 598,000 are living in relief camps. Nearly 800,000 refugees are estimated to be hosted in more than 40 calamity-notified districts, including more than 175,600 women, 194,000 girls and 206,000 boys. More than 2 million houses have been damaged and more than 1.1 million livestock killed.

The 2021 monsoon season across South Asia was among the deadliest the region has ever seen. Millions of people were affected by a cascade of flood events, with little time to recover between shocks. In Bangladesh, more than half a million people were deluged by floods, leaving villages marooned for weeks at a time.17 In India, a series of deadly floods claimed over 1,200 lives and affected a staggering 18 million others. And in Nepal, around one third of the country suffered floods and associated landslides, with many occurring outside of the traditional monsoon season. Floods overran villages, towns and cities across Nepal, taking the lives of 673 people, displacing 18,000 others, and inflicting more than $50 million in damage and economic losses.

Humanitarian actors worked swiftly to get ahead of and respond to the series of deadly floods across the subcontinent. In 2021, the Central Emergency Response Fund launched an anticipatory action pilot in Nepal to mitigate the impacts of severe flooding events, and to promote life-saving assistance to more than 80,000 people in 23 flood-prone municipalities across the country.

This growing humanitarian climate emergency requires significant investment in humanitarian programmes that boost the resilience and adaptative capacities of vulnerable communities and ensure they receive climate adaptation funds to manage the risks they face. Less than 18 per cent of climate adaptation finance allocated in 2019 went to countries with an HRP. The participation of people affected by climate change will be critical to ensure responsive, accountable and effective humanitarian programming. Unless policy and prevention and mitigation measures are put in place now, climate change will continue being a leading driver of humanitarian need.

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