Look beyond hotspots to help people weather climate shocks: study

Laurie Goering PlanetArk 11 Dec 15;

Targeting money only at areas hit by drought and other climate extremes in an effort to build resilience among the world's poorest may be ineffective, researchers said.

In Mali, for example, over much of the last decade, farmers and herders have struggled with worsening drought that has killed crops and animals and often made rural people poorer and hungrier.

But the fallout from those losses has impacts far beyond drought-hit regions, new research by the London-based Overseas Development Institute suggests.

Failed harvests in crisis zones, for instance, can lead to higher food prices and stunting of children in cities and across the country.

That suggests narrow responses will overlook many of those affected, researchers said.

"Donors always want to focus resources on particular locations. They want to do hotspot mapping," said Emily Wilkinson, a lead researcher on the new report, released on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Paris.

But the impacts of disasters don't only show up where they happen, and "that's a very important finding", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study, which looks at worsening droughts in Mali, typhoons in the Philippines and heat waves in India, suggests that measures to reduce poverty and build capacity to deal with worsening climate shocks must work hand-in-hand, or risk being ineffective.

"New ways of working are required to link institutions that have previously been poorly connected," said the report, supported by the UK-funded Building Resilience to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program.

More decentralized government, so decisions can be made closer to the source of the problem, may also be useful in many situations, as can looking at innovative ways to pay to reduce risk, such as insurance programs.

Insurance should not be seen as "a panacea for managing risk", Wilkinson said.

But in a world where risks are becoming more unpredictable, it can be a useful balance to other "structural" risk reduction measures - such as protective walls built to survive only a certain level of flooding.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

The aim of the research was to look at which actions and instruments would continue to work and be helpful in a "very uncertain future" of climate extremes, she added.

India, for instance, has made progress in dealing with worsening deadly heat waves in recent years simply by declaring them as a type of disaster for the first time.

Instead of developing a federal heat stress plan, it has had states put together their own plans, which can be much more tailored to local problems.

At the same time, building links among states and cities is crucial, because without them, lessons from innovative policies in Odisha or Ahmedabad, for instance, might not be used elsewhere.

"The map of how very hot days is going to affect India is shifting, and more states in the south will be affected. You don't want to wait for an extreme event, a disaster, before an initiative gets replicated there," Wilkinson said.

Government public works programs, and other social safety net measures - such as supplying quick cash handouts just after or even before a predicted disaster - appear to be another way of stopping disaster-hit communities from falling into worsening poverty as they sell their assets to survive.

Government schemes aimed at least in part at reducing risks from climate shocks are already in use in countries such as Ethiopia, Mexico and Bangladesh, the report said. Tanzania has a "Social Action Fund" that gives people cash in exchange for making efforts to cut their own disaster risk.

But often, incentives to build resilience to disasters before they hit are still lacking or ineffective, Wilkinson said.

"That's the big challenge," she said. "We have the right instruments but they're not doing the job yet."

Progress is also slower than the rate at which climate-linked disasters are worsening, which threatens to stall progress on reducing poverty or could even drive more people into it, the report warned.

"Building resilience capacities incrementally may not be enough to secure poverty reduction in the face of climate change," it said. "The scale and scope of future climate risks will require a transformational shift in the way risk is managed."

(Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)

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