How climate change sparks innovation for fragile communities

flood 2019

(Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Efrem Garlando, Investment and Innovation Policy Officer, European Commission & Yo Nishimura, Global Shaper Rome Hub & Adriana Bianco, Knowledge Management Consultant, World Food Programme


A daily income of less than $2 per person is the internationally recognized threshold for extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide live below this threshold, and 85% of them are concentrated in the top 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

1 in 10 people worldwide live in extreme poverty.
Image: PovcalNet Sources: World Bank, Washington, DC, World Development Indicators; World Economic Outlook; Global Economic Prospects; Economist Intelligence Unit.

Climate-related hazards are posing additional difficulties to these countries and to the humanitarian organizations that work to save and protect the millions of people in need. The University of Exeter estimates that a rise in global temperatures of 4°C would affect the lives of more than 1.8 billion people, causing devastating effects due to flash floods, droughts and higher exposure to natural disasters.

Although environmental degradation is not a new issue in humanitarian contexts, climate change is worsening the already devastating impacts of conflicts, poverty and disasters around the world.

The current humanitarian architecture already includes climate change coping strategies as a core aspect to address, particularly in peace building and humanitarian actions. In fact, an increasing number of actors are focusing on the multiple benefits – economic, environmental and humanitarian – of shifting paradigms, from a reactive climate and disaster response, to a proactive mitigation and risk reduction approach. Demonstrating the economic, social and environmental return of such resilience building activities is key to attract investments and thus protect and improve people’s livelihoods.

On average, every euro spent for resilience building activities saves between €4 and €7 that would have been spent in response to disasters. However, according to the United Nations system for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) only 3.8% of the Official Development Assistance directly supports disaster preparedness. The only way to reduce the effect of environmental disasters is to be prepared before a disaster happens. These are some possible solutions.

1. Get insurance

Developing countries are the most impacted by climate change and the least able to afford its consequences. Climate change has the potential to reverse significant development gains made in these countries.

Open access to financial services is not enough to serve people living with low incomes. However, financial inclusion might be a formidable asset to face external shocks. Humanitarian and development institutions can join forces together with private sector operators to solve such issues.

Financial organizations have now adopted a more systematic approach for their customers. Among the many different tools that practitioners are developing for people in extremely difficult conditions is climate emergency insurance, which has attracted attention among international donors.

This works in the same way as a simple home insurance policy, except that it triggers a payout from the insurer in the event of a disaster. The insured party pays a certain amount to the insurance company and receives their premium back in the event of a disaster, depending on the agreed payout and trigger. By using such an instrument, international donors can also play a guaranteed role and subsidise premium coverage to ensure full coverage even in the poorest countries.

New financing partnerships for humanitarian impact.
Image: ODI 2019

The WFP FoodSECuRE programme has adopted a similar financing model by integrating models to forecast rainfall, in order to support the Bangladeshi population to recover from seasonal monsoons. This forward-looking approach has supported more than 25,000 people to buy lifesaving food supplies in preparation for severe rainstorms.

Forecast-based financing
Image: WFP, 2018

2. Stay connected, don’t be afraid of technology

Fear of technology is nothing new. But the use of digital tools has transformed the way humanitarian organizations can deliver both short and long-term relief. Since 2003, UNOSAT Rapid Mapping provides 24/7 geospatial data and images to be used for early warning mechanisms and immediate provision of damage assessment, and for a wide range of emergency situations resulting from natural disasters, including floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, severe storms, fires, industrial accidents, volcanic eruptions, and humanitarian crises. These images are free and open source so that everyone can instantaneously verify the weather forecast conditions.

Similar technologies have been used in Cambodia to alert rural communities in case of incumbent flash floods so that people could be ready to evacuate. Automated systems mechanisms can facilitate and speed up the information process by ensuring broad coverage including in remote areas.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

Being prepared for a catastrophic event is not just a matter of supporting people in emergency circumstances. Anticipation rather than reaction needs to become the approach for most humanitarian donors worldwide in order to save lives and leave no one behind.

Strengthening the emphasis on local communities can break the never-ending circle of humanitarian operations. The future of crisis-affected communities ultimately lies within themselves. Building a network of local advocacy practitioners might be a good starting point.

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