States urged to target disaster aid at the poor as climate risks rise

Poorest people are set to suffer worst from heat extremes and coastal flooding linked to climate change, studies say.

With the world’s poor predicted to bear the brunt of more frequent extreme heat and worsening coastal floods in a warmer world, aid agencies are calling on governments to direct more funding into protecting the most vulnerable communities on the front lines of climate change.

The poorest fifth of the global population is expected to experience daily heat extremes due to climate change sooner than the wealthiest, according to research published on Tuesday by an international team including Britain’s University of East Anglia.

And a report released by Christian Aid this week reveals that the Indian cities of Kolkata and Mumbai are likely to have the largest number of people in the way of coastal flooding by 2070, with Dhaka in Bangladesh, China’s Guangzhou and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam close behind.

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next week, and with governments gathered in Bonn to discuss how to implement the Paris climate change agreement, experts said poor nations need more international finance to deal with the growing risk of disasters linked to weather extremes and rising seas.

Alison Doig, Christian Aid’s principal climate change advisor, said climate change and the growth of coastal urban areas make flooding more likely there in the coming decades.

“Cruelly, it will be the poor that will suffer the most. Although the financial cost to cities in rich countries will be crippling, wealthier people will at least have options to relocate and receive insurance protection,” she said.

“Evidence shows that from New Orleans to Dhaka, it is the poorest who are most vulnerable because they have the worst infrastructure and no social or financial safety nets to help them recover.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on governments at the World Humanitarian Summit to dedicate at least 1 per cent of their development assistance by 2020 to reducing the risk of and preparing for disasters, up from around 0.5 per cent now.

Christian Aid says it should be increased to 5 per cent.

“There is money going into disaster resilience but it’s not always getting to the most vulnerable,” Doig told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We want more to go to the poorest communities.”

The extreme heat study, published in Environmental Research Letters, showed countries in low latitudes - including the Horn of Africa and West Africa - are likely to be worst affected by more frequent hot days linked to cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, despite having contributed little to them.

We need to see specific commitments in Bonn to increase adaptation finance and for that money to be spent supporting small farmers who are on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Tracy Carty, climate change expert, Oxfam

“What our research shows is that heat extremes do not increase evenly everywhere, but are becoming much more frequent more quickly for countries nearer the equator. These happen to be disproportionately poorer nations,” said Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at Swiss university ETH Zurich.

“We also know the wealthiest countries will be able to cope with the impacts more easily than poorer nations.”

More money on the table?

At a high-level session at the humanitarian summit, leaders are being asked to back a commitment to build the resilience of communities as “a critical first line of response” to disasters.

They may also agree to invest in data, analysis and early warning of natural disasters and climate change risks, and help national governments and local groups manage those risks better.

The United Nations Development Programme, for example, is hoping to rally support for a plan to speed up disaster preparedness in 20 of the most at-risk countries.

Meanwhile, development charity Oxfam called on governments at the U.N. climate talks to set concrete targets for financial help for the vulnerable to adapt to climate change effects.

The Paris climate deal, agreed in December, calls for more money to help countries afford projects to keep villagers safe from floods or enable farmers to switch to hardier crops - but does not specify how much money, when it will be distributed, how it is being counted, or how it will be raised, Oxfam said.

“We need to see specific commitments in Bonn to increase adaptation finance and for that money to be spent supporting small farmers who are on the front lines of the climate crisis,” said Oxfam climate change expert Tracy Carty.

Wealthy donour governments are touting insurance as a way to stop climate change pushing people deeper into poverty.

In June last year, G7 states announced an effort to increase by up to 400 million the number of people in low and middle-income countries who have access to direct or indirect insurance coverage against climate-related hazards, by 2020.

Market research and expert opinion suggest only around 100 million people living on less than $2 a day are covered by climate risk insurance in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

So far G7 nations plan to provide $420 million for the “InsuResilience” initiative, which would increase coverage by at least 180 million people - almost halfway towards the goal.

But in a recent report, anti-poverty group RESULTS UK said greater urgency was needed to frontload investments to meet the “highly ambitious” goal.

And building up commercial markets alone would not benefit the most vulnerable and marginalised people, it added.

“Insurance products will be out of reach for those people - in terms of even just micro-insurance premiums which are very small - for a long while to come,” said report author Catherine Blampied.

This story was republished with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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