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Managing climate and disaster risk in fragile states

Floods in South Sudan

No country is immune to natural hazards, but for fragile states, the effects are even more severe. Mostly, conflict prevention and humanitarian aid are seen as more pressing priorities to protect livelihoods there. This pushes efforts of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to the bottom of the priority list and results in compounded pressures.

Too often disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation is not given due attention in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. DRR and adaptation approaches are not always prioritized enough by donors and development financing mechanisms, and as a consequence, national and local governments. One of the reasons for this is competition with what seem more pressing and urgent priorities, such as preventing conflict and ensuring humanitarian aid.

Although it is encouraging to see that over the last few years the political mood has shifted. Countries such as Sweden, Germany, UK and Netherlands are actively investing in studies and programmes that look at the impact of climate change and disaster in conflict affected states. The Global Assessment Report 2019 (GAR19) also has a section on the need to increase investments in addressing climate change and disaster risk in fragile countries. Failure to do so is entirely compromising the global ambition to achieve the Sendai Framework, and especially Target E, which we need to hit by 2020. This growing consensus will hopefully drive more research on the impact that DRR and climate change adaption have on conflict prevention.

UNDP, with nearly 170 country offices is the largest implementer of DRR and climate change adaptation in the UN and is at the forefront of efforts to reduce the multi-dimensional and compounding risks faced by those in fragile countries. But there is still a long way to go.

Through my role working in climate change and disaster risk reduction teams, I have had the privilege to work with many development partners to advance UNDP’s work. I had the opportunity to work on a UN climate security initiative which aims to increase awareness around climate-related security threats and develop a risk assessment and response framework, with a focus on fragile and conflict affected countries. This year the initiative has advanced the UN’s capacity to deliver climate-related security risk assessments, crucial for implementing better disaster management and climate adaptation strategies.

Recently I had the opportunity to support adelphi, a leading independent German think tank, with their assessment of the climate and fragility risks in the Lake Chad region. The report called “Shoring Up Stability – Addressing Climate and Fragility Risks in the Lake Chad Region’ provides insights into how climate change and conflict affects vulnerable communities as well as the prospect of peace in the region. It also provides recommendations for policies and programmes to strengthen resilience and incorporate information about risks into national recovery and development plans.

Strategic assessments looking at the links between climate change, disaster and conflict risks are imperative to understand and breakdown the interactions between different risks, such as food insecurity and weak governance, and formulate comprehensive interventions.

UNDP can participate in assessments and research on these links. In 2011, when we published a report on the ‘Disaster-Conflict Interface’ we were widely seen as a pioneering agency in this field. And it is now time for UNDP to continue promoting partnerships with research firms and continue this deep dive, using the lessons our country offices have learned from our programmes in fragile contexts, as well as the work of many other partners who have made progress in this field.  

More research and assessments will advance the knowledge of DRR and climate change adaptation policy and programme support by advancing a cross-practice approach that spans disaster risk reduction, climate change and conflict prevention. This will directly enhance the impact of the work of UNDP and partners and improve the lives of communities that are exposed to persistent disaster, climate and conflict related risks.

I hope that more evidence of the connections between conflict and the impact of disasters and climate change, along with clear recommendation on how to manage these risks in an integrated way will help to make the case for increased investments  in fragile  countries.


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