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Column: Climate change – it's not all just hot air

As former US vice-president Al Gore arrives in Dublin today to speak about climate change, global hunger and poverty, Dom Hunt explains why climate change needs to be recognised as a global issue.

Dom Hunt

With former US vice-president Al Gore due in Dublin today, Dom Hunt of Concern Worldwide explains why Disaster Risk Reduction is key to mitigating the links between climate change and hunger.

AID AGENCIES ARE often seen as first-responders to global disasters or engaged in longer-term development, but we also do a significant amount of work in trying to prevent disasters from happening, or preparing vulnerable communities to be better able to withstand disasters when they occur.

Shocks and stresses – sudden events or slow trends that cause loss of assets or life – are among the most important underlying causes and mainstays of global poverty and vulnerability. In spite of a degree of uncertainty, it is widely recognised that climate change is, and will continue to be, a significant driver of an increasing number of intense and extreme weather events, such as storms, floods and droughts.

So it is in such a context that former US vice-president Al Gore comes to Dublin to address delegates at the Hunger Nutrition and Climate Justice Conference as part of Ireland’s EU Presidency. The conference aims to open a dialogue and debate on the linked challenges of addressing hunger, nutrition and climate justice and Gore, a campaigner for climate change and the environment, will address how the issue of climate change can be a root cause of global poverty.

The effect of climate change is consistently under-estimated

More often than not, when global poverty and its causes are evaluated, the issue of climate change is under-estimated. Working as a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Advisor I have seen first-hand the devastating effect that climate change is having on the most vulnerable people living in the developing world. One of the significant impacts of climate change on poverty that we are already seeing is the increasing variability of weather patterns – if you are a small holder farmer without irrigation facilities, dependent on the rain which is increasingly unpredictable, this can be a serious issue.

Concern Worldwide is doing what it can to assist the extreme poor to adapt to the additional stresses placed upon them as a result of climate change, and to limit the impact it has on the developing world. One such process is through Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and community resilience. DRR is the process of protecting livelihoods and the assets of communities and individuals from the impact of hazards by conducting risk analyses, reducing the frequency, scale, intensity and impact of shocks and stresses, and reducing the vulnerability of those at risk to the impacts of hazards.

Preparedness is key to strengthening the capacity of communities to anticipate, cope with, respond to and recover from hazards, and of government, implementing partners and Concern to establish appropriate safety net mechanisms that enable vulnerable people to protect their assets in times of hardship, and to mount speedy and appropriate emergency interventions when the communities’ capacities are overwhelmed.

Increased drought and heavy rainfall predicted

In Afghanistan, the steep mountains have been seriously deforested resulting in significant soil erosion (the soil is particularly loose and brittle in that part of the world), and leaving the communities and their assets at risk of flooding and landslides. Last year was particularly tough—a severe drought was followed by one of the harshest winters in recent times.

This led to avalanches and later in spring, as the snow melted and rains came, severe flooding. Irrigation facilities, fields and houses were damaged.

Climate change predictions indicate that drought and heavy rainfall (leading to floods) are set to become more common and more intense; in an already significantly degraded environment this does not bode well for the people living in the Afghan mountain regions. Concern has been helping to rehabilitate flood defences and irrigation take-off points, installing check-dams and terraces, stabilising unstable slopes and encouraging reforestation so as to address the long term predictions that things will get worse.

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Climate change needs to be recognised as a global issue

Through direct participation in the DRR process, vulnerable communities, groups and individuals are be able to analyse their own situation and overall environmental factors relevant to DRR.

Through learning, experimentation and innovation, they will improve their own adaptive capacity to respond to, cope with, and recover from the impact of disasters and climate change.

We firmly believe that it is our job as a humanitarian agency to prepare communities the very best that we can so that they are more resilient to a more challenging future resulting from climate change, population increase and environmental degradation. Climate change needs to be recognised as a global issue.

My hope is that following the conference in Dublin Castle next week, climate change will be pushed to the forefront of the global hunger agenda. It is an issue that is having a real and devastating effect on those communities that are least equipped to cope.

Dom has been working in the environment/forestry/agriculture/humanitarian sectors since 1994, with Concern in Nepal from 2007, and as the organisation’s DRR advisor since 2011. He has lived in a number of countries in Africa and Asia, and has always maintained a focus on the interface between human activity and the environment.

About the author:

Dom Hunt

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