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Red Cross Contributes to Climate Change Talks in Copenhagen
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By Abi Weaver, International Communications, American Red Cross
December 4, 2009

World leaders will have a historic opportunity to discus climate change starting December 7 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Red Cross will have representatives in attendance at the conference.

The average number of people affected by climate-related natural disasters annually has reached an estimated 243 million.
The average number of people affected by climate-related natural disasters annually has reached an estimated 243 million.
Photo Credit: IFRC

Experts with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness, located in The Hague, Netherlands, are uniquely positioned to provide advice and ideas to governments on how to incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into partnership agreements.

“Any agreements at COP15 must protect the most vulnerable and focus on helping communities adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change, including natural disasters,” said Madeleen Helmer, head of the Climate Centre.  “For example, countries should adopt nationwide disaster risk reduction and preparedness initiatives, in which climate change-related risks are addressed, as well as implement robust and coordinated emergency response systems to address the resulting humanitarian needs.”

Among its many projects, the Climate Centre has recently helped the Red Crescent societies in drought-stricken Syria, Morocco and Libya to initiate localized coping strategies, including hygiene promotion and water conservation projects.

The focus of the American Red Cross on climate change has been to ensure individuals are prepared to deal with the impact of disasters, including new risks related to climate change, and teach communities how to effectively respond to any catastrophe at home and abroad.

Scientists agree the global climate is changing. Average temperatures are increasing, snow and ice are melting, and sea levels are rising, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  As a result, extreme weather events, such as floods, storms and droughts, are becoming more prevalent, and communities are finding it challenging to anticipate and recover from these disasters.

In the past decade, the American Red Cross has responded to more than 200 international disasters, many of which were climate-related. Within the United States, we are also experiencing disasters with greater frequency and devastation. Climate change affects more than the environment; it changes lives.

  • Families lose their homes and livelihoods in the wake of these tragedies
  • Diseases spread when water and sanitation services are disrupted or destroyed
  • Food supplies shrink, causing malnutrition, which eventually leads to death

The humanitarian consequences are immense. The average number of people affected by climate-related natural disasters annually has reached an estimated 243 million.

“Climate change has a human face – it is increasing the disaster risks for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people,” said David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services with the American Red Cross. “Those suffering the most come from the poorest communities; they lack the resources needed to cope with the rapidly changing climate patterns and can’t afford to lose or replace what little they have.”

Because helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters the heart of our U.S. mission, the American Red Cross is investing in projects that reduce disaster risks and contribute to community resiliency. Our international programs support individuals and communities in their efforts to adapt and thrive when climate changes threaten their livelihoods.

The American Red Cross has expanded support for international disaster risk reduction programs and global partnerships, within the Red Cross network and beyond.  For example, the American Red Cross is funding the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center’s work to develop early warning systems in four countries. As a result of these investments community leaders are notified of impending dangers sooner so they can then alert residents and local emergency responders to take life-saving actions. 

“We are making communities safer and more resilient to disasters through regional adaptation projects,” said Meltzer. “By scaling up our preparedness programs and disease prevention activities we can bring immediate solutions to people and communities at risk.”

To learn how you can become involved in these initiatives, contact your local American Red Cross chapter and ask about volunteering to help prepare for or respond to emergencies in your community.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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