Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Netherlands Red Cross


  The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the world's largest humanitarian organization, providing assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

  Founded in 1919, the International Federation comprises 178 member National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. There are around 97 million members and volunteers in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement worldwide, of whom an estimated 20 million people are volunteers. In 2000, 50 million people around the world were assisted by the Red Cross Red Crescent movement.

  According to the 2001 World Disasters Report, more disasters were reported in 2000 than in previous years. However, the year 2000 saw significantly fewer people killed by disaster—some 20,000 as compared to the average of 75,000 per year during the previous decade. But the number of people affected by disasters went up to 256 million compared with an average of 211 million per year from 1991 to 2000, and an annual average of 147 million in the 1980s.

  A major cause of the increasing number of people being affected by disasters is the increase in the number of hydro-meteorological disasters such as floods, wind storms and droughts. Since the mid-1990s, the reported number of weather-related disasters has doubled. They now account for over 90 per cent of all deaths from natural disasters. The effect on lives and livelihoods is immense, and the economic effect on a country's development is considerable. The average amount of estimated disaster damage during the 1990s was 81 billion dollars per year (2000 prices), of which weather- related disasters amounted to nearly 55 billion per year (68 per cent). Since the 1950s, costs associated with natural disasters have gone up 14 times. And some agencies estimate that the future costs of climate-related disasters over the next 20 years could range from 6-10 trillion dollars—10 times more than the projected flows of aid/ODA.

  The frequency and effect of disasters, particularly in the last decade, has increased at such an alarming rate that vulnerable populations do not always have the opportunity to recover from one disaster before the next one strikes. As a result, disasters are threatening the possibility of achieving the 2015 development goals set by the OECD. Staying a step ahead of the next disaster is becoming increasingly important. This is why the IFRC has identified disaster preparedness as one of the four core areas of activities for itself and for National Societies under Strategy 2010.

  Not only the current statistics of increasing numbers of hydro-meteorological disasters and people affected are a source of great concern. Reports by in particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have further increased our anxiety. The IPCC expects climate change to lead to more floods, more droughts, more areas affected by vector-borne diseases, and millions of people affected by sea-level rise and forced to move.

  Humanitarian organizations will be among the first to respond to the impacts of climate change. This realisation was the prime motive for the Netherlands Red Cross in the beginning of 2001 to explore the possibilities of a Red Cross/Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness. In the process of establishing the centre, where we have now entered the final stage of decision making, I have had the privilege of talking with many people from both the international humanitarian relief and disaster science community as the "climate change community".

  We are hoping to build a bridge between these communities at local, national and international levels. I hope that some of my observations on this process can be helpful in the context of this hearing.


  1.  Climate change is still dominantly regarded as an environmental issue. In most if not all countries, the Ministries of Environment have the lead in developing the national climate-change policy and in negotiating internationally in the framework of the UNFCCC and related fora. As a result, the humanitarian and development perspective of climate change, in particular in developing countries, is still hardly developed.

  2.  The prime objective of international climate-change policy development and research has been understanding the climate change problem and trying to solve it. This is reflected in the funding and "intellectual investments" into working groups 1 and 3 of the IPCC, which is generous compared to the limited contributions to working group 2. Likewise, the negotiations in the UNFCCC are dominated by debates on policies and measures that can be adopted to reduce GHG emissions.

  3.  Adaptation to climate change in developing countries is a barely touched subject, both in the work of the IPCC and in the UNFCCC negotiations and in bilateral and multilateral ODA-programs, where mitigation of climate change is the dominant element of climate-change-related programs with developing countries.

  4.  Involvement of Civil Society is generally regarded as an important factor in the success of development programs. However, Civil Society organisations engaged in climate-change issues are predominantly environmental NGOs. Development agencies and humanitarian agencies have largely been absent in fora where climate-change issues are discussed and policies and programs are developed.

  Reasons for this could be:

    —  that they regard climate change as an environmental issue, which is not their priority;

    —  that climate change is still a rather abstract issue, with many uncertainties, which makes it difficult to assess what climate change could mean in the context of their national and often locally-oriented strategies and programs; and

    —  that other humanitarian and development issues are perceived as far more urgent.

  As a consequence, civil society organisations are hardly involved in the development of climate change adaptation strategies, let alone actual programs.

  5.  Humanitarian organisations have a lot of experience in dealing with extreme-weather events. This experience could be very beneficial to both the development and the implementation of climate change adaptation programs in development countries. This can be particularly relevant for organisations such as the International Federation of RC and RC societies which is already heavily involved in disaster preparedness programmes.

  6.  Not only is the interaction between non-environmental civil society organisations and the climate change community (consisting of both scientists and policymakers) limited, but there is little interaction between experts on climate change and experts in the area of disaster studies at the scientific and policy-making level. Likewise, there seems to be little interaction within Ministries between humanitarian divisions and the divisions dealing with the impact of climate change in developing countries.

  7.  Awareness of the impact of climate change and extreme-weather events is a condition for the development of plans of action to mitigate these impacts, be it at international, national, local or even at household level. Awareness is the first step in improving the resilience of people and communities. However, very little is done in this area. Given the reporting in the national communications to the UNFCCC, it seems that the commitments made under Article 6 of the UNFCCC have been given the lowest priority in both Annex 1 and Non-annex 1 countries, and have received the least, if any, resources. The disaster preparedness programs of the RCRC are already based on awareness raising, lessening impact of disasters and preparing for them. There is definitely an opportunity to use this to include awareness of the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.

  When formally established, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness aims to assist in the process of bringing climate scientists, policymakers, operational humanitarian organisations and others involved together to stimulate greater awareness of the impact of climate change on the lives of people in vulnerable positions, in particular in developing countries, which should result in robust policies and concrete programs that will increase their resilience.

Netherlands Red Cross

February 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 July 2002