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Children pay the price for climate change inaction

Children pay the price as international community plays catch-up with climate change

International development agency Save the Children is calling for a dramatic shake-up in dealing with natural disasters linked to climate change.

The agency's latest report, In the Face of Disaster, states that governments, international organisations and aid agencies must change their tactics and prepare for natural disasters rather than just responding to them.

They must invest now to prepare in advance for the increase in the number and severity of disasters that climate change will bring. It is too late to concentrate solely on reducing carbon emissions – climate change is already having an impact. Now is the time to plan for disasters before they happen to reduce the damage they cause to the lives of vulnerable children and their families.

It is estimated that every US$1 spent on preparing for a disaster can prevent US$7 of losses. If all the countries that give money to humanitarian assistance invested an additional 10 per cent of the approximately US$10 billion they spend on responding to disasters on preparation, they could prevent US$7 billion of losses. That's enough to respond to five tsunamis.

Save the Children's Emergency Expert, Amelia Bookstein Kyazze, says: "Climate change has moved the goalposts for responding to emergencies and we, as the international community, must adapt. Investing in preparing for disasters now will not only save millions of dollars in the long run – it will save lives. Now is the time to think big."

In a previous report in its climate change series published last year, Save the Children said that 50 percent of those affected by natural disasters were children and estimated that up to 175 million children every year are likely to be affected by the kinds of natural disasters brought about by climate change.

Bookstein Kyazze adds: "It is difficult to predict exactly when and where disasters will strike, but we know which countries are vulnerable and there are many ways that we can plan for disasters.

"We know the areas where disasters recur, like the flood-prone deltas of Bangladesh, the arid drought-affected Sahel region of West Africa, the volatile Pacific Rim. Instead of playing catch up with climate change and waiting for disaster to strike, the international community should invest now in projects that will reduce the devastating impact of the natural disasters that climate change will bring."

Recent events have highlighted the difference that investing in preparation can make. In Bangladesh in November 2007, thousands of volunteers that were part of the country's cyclone preparedness programme mobilised to evacuate people living in the path of Cyclone Sidr.

The rapid response was responsible for saving thousands of lives. Fewer than 4,000 people died in 2007, compared to 140,000 in a similar-scale cyclone in 1991.

The experience of Bangladesh contrasts strongly with Myanmar in May, where there was very little preparation for disaster and a much higher death toll.

The projects that should be funded to prepare for disasters include everything from planting mangrove trees to building disaster resistant public buildings, making clear evacuation routes or setting up early warning systems. These projects, known as Disaster Risk Reduction, should involve everyone, including children living in villages, governments and international organisations.

168 countries have already reached an agreement on the need for disaster risk reduction work to take place at local, national, regional and international levels. This agreement, called the Hyogo Framework, was developed in 2005 but Save the Children is concerned that those involved are yet to deliver on their commitments.

Save the Children recommends: • Donors should commit the equivalent of an additional 10 percent of the money they currently spend on disaster response to preparing for disasters • The countries that have adopted the Hyogo framework should make good on their commitments to it and report back on the progress they are making. • Children who live in disaster-prone areas should be taught about how to respond to emergencies and should be involved in all levels of disaster risk reduction projects in their communities.


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