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Acting swift to cope with climate crisis

Apr 24, 2009

Oxfam’s new report: The Right to Survive projects a rise of more than half in the number of people affected by climate change by 2015. It warns that the crisis could be exacerbated by entrenched poverty, higher population density and a humanitarian system that is wanting.

The Right to Survive: The humanitarian challenge for the twenty-first century

Publisher: Oxfam, 2009

Vulnerability – to threats such as conflict or environmental hazards like floods and earthquakes – is a result of poverty; the political choices, corruption, and greed that cause it, and the political indifference that allows it to endure.

The report projects that by 2015, climate victims could grow by more than 50 per cent to an average of over 375 million people affected by disasters in the very near future, as climate change and environmental mismanagement create a proliferation of droughts, floods and other disasters.

Some of these environmental changes will also increase the threat of new conflicts creating by 2015, an unprecedented level of need for humanitarian assistance that could overwhelm the world’s current humanitarian capacity.


It is possible to reduce the threats from climate-related catastrophes. Governments, aid agencies, and others must act to improve the quality and quantity of humanitarian aid and it will cost a tiny fraction of what rich countries have spent on the global financial crisis since 2008 to provide decent humanitarian assistance.

The report urges rich governments to take the lead in cutting their emissions so that warming stays as far below 2°C as possible, and provide at least $50bn per year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

There are positive trends as well. In many countries, the death toll from disasters has been drastically reduced, not because there have been fewer disastrous events, but because governments have taken action to prepare for them. For example, Cyclone Sidr killed around 3,000 people in Bangladesh in 2007, a tiny fraction of the numbers killed by Cyclone Bhola in 1972 or even by Cyclone Gorky in 1991, storms of similar strength.

In countries like India, where new legislation has created 900 million person-days of employment for rural poor people, the advent of ‘social protection’ mechanisms offers at least the hope that the cycle of disaster and poverty can be broken.

The report outlines the following recommendations:

Building a safer future

  • A far greater focus on building national governments’ capacity to respond to disasters – and, where needed, challenging those governments to use it
  • A far greater focus on helping people, and national governments, to become less vulnerable to disasters
  • An international humanitarian system that acts quickly and impartially to provide effective and accountable assistance

Reducing vulnerability

National governments must:

  • Adopt disaster risk-reduction measures combining early warning, preparedness plans, and grassroots mobilisation
  • Invest in sustainable livelihoods so that people have secure incomes and food
  • Improve urban planning so that people living in slums are housed in disaster-resistant dwellings and in areas less subject to environmental risks
  • Invest in public services and infrastructure to reduce public-health risks
Source : Oxfam
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