ECOSOC Addresses the Humanitarian Consequences of Climate-Induced Disasters

16 July 2008: The UN Economic and Social Council

(ECOSOC) continued its three-day Humanitarian Affairs Segment with a panel discussion

on “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness: addressing the humanitarian

consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change.” The

discussion was chaired by Council Vice-President Park In-kook (Republic of

Korea) and moderated by Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for

Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. Park said the

current session would contribute to the debates of various fora that are

addressing disaster preparedness and risk reduction and the impacts of climate

change. In order to respond to the increased humanitarian needs caused by

climate change, Bragg called for adaptation mechanisms that draw

on existing risk-reduction measures and increased synergies between the climate

change and humanitarian agendas.

Barbara Carby, Director, Hazard Management, Cayman

Islands, explained that the Caribbean Community had established the

Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, which focuses on mainstreaming

adaptation to climate change. She noted that throughout the region, disaster

risk-reduction experience could be used to guide climate change adaptation

processes. Madeleen Helmer, Head of the Climate Centre,

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, stated that,

despite greater certainty that climate change was happening, the disaster

management community did not know how it would manifest itself and tended to

delay action while learning about the nature of the risk. She stressed the need

for local efforts to assess and address vulnerabilities. Mostafa Mohaghegh,

Head of the Regional Office for West Asia and North Africa, International

Strategy for Disaster Reduction, highlighted that the League

of Arab States was currently negotiating the Arab Regional Framework Plan for

Climate Change, which focuses on adaptation to reduce vulnerabilities of

communities in the region, and called for the implementation of existing

successful disaster risk-reduction strategies. Walter

Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of

Internally Displaced Persons, listed the climate-related factors that are

driving the displacement of populations worldwide, which often need

humanitarian assistance. He urged the Council not to engage in a semantic

debate on how people displaced by natural disasters should be qualified but

instead analyze the possible natural disaster-induced displacements. Kälin

called on governments, civil society and humanitarian agencies to prepare

strategies to cope with the impact of an increased number of

hydro-meteorological disasters, noting that persons displaced because of these

events did not qualify as refugees and risked “ending up in legal limbo.” He

recommended making adaptation strategies a priority and mainstreaming them into

development planning and projects. In the ensuing debate, participants

addressed the need to:  make adaptation part of governmental

decision-making; take into account local expertise; enhance cooperation between

the climate change and humanitarian communities; and increase knowledge

transfer. [UN press

release, 16 July 2008]