Fernando Fischmann

How innovation is protecting Africa’s most vulnerable from extreme weather

8 January, 2016 / Articles

When life is already a struggle, a sudden shock can have a devastating impact. Families and communities can find themselves pulled in a downward spiral from which it may be impossible to escape.

Storms, droughts and floods are often not the reason why millions in Africa and many other regions are in poverty. But it can be the final blow which kills off their opportunity to make a better life for their families.

This is why in, the talks in Paris, the focus must not only be on the immense global challenge of climate change and the collective need to take bold action to cut emissions. They must also focus on the millions of small impacts that the changing climate will bring – and the extreme weather events it is already fuelling – which are damaging the life chances of families across Africa and the developing world.

Extreme weather is, of course, damaging wherever it hits. But in developing regions and for the most vulnerable families, it can be the difference between hope and despair.

Subsistence farmers, after all, don’t have insurance or savings to allow them to rebuild their lives. Nor may national governments, however much they want to help, have the resources or machinery to offer support.

Aid agencies and the wider world community work tirelessly to respond to natural disasters. But aid rarely matches what is required and the ad-hoc nature of the response inevitably means delays. Despite their best efforts, it can take months for needs to be assessed, an international appeal launched and funds collected before emergency aid reaches the people most in need of help.

Such delays can be – and are proving to be – the final straw for families and communities already living on the edge. Thousands of people can be forced from their homes never to return. Those that stay may sell or slaughter the livestock on which their livelihoods depend.

The result is that extreme weather events do far more than cause huge individual suffering and disruption. They deepen and extend poverty and, at their worst, can reverse an entire decade of development progress.

It is why, as well as bold collective action to first slow and then reduce carbon emissions, effective systems to help protect communities against natural disasters must be at the heart of action to tackle climate change.

The good news is that we are not starting from scratch. Across the world, we have seen the creation and growth of innovative programmes which are building the resilience of countries and communities in the front line of the battle against climate change.

The African Risk Capacity (ARC) and Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, for example, are existing, comprehensive, integrated and practical solutions to this challenge. Both have been developed locally to allow countries better to pool and manage risk and harness outside expertise and capital resources.

At the heart of ARC is a weather insurance scheme, drawn up under the umbrella of the African Union with the active involvement of global reinsurance markets. It has active support from international partners such as Germany and the UK who are providing interest-free loans.

Member countries pay annual premiums, based on their size and risk analysis of the likely frequency and impact of floods, storms and droughts within their borders. Their participation enables them immediately to access relief funds, far larger than their premiums, when pre-agreed triggers show climate disaster has struck.

But ARC is far more than just a regional variation on a traditional insurance scheme. A sophisticated model has been developed, using data from satellites, which allows the occurrence of severe weather events and their impact on communities to be estimated accurately.

It is already helping to forecast where the storms, floods and droughts associated with this year’s severe El Niño may have the most impact in the east of Africa. This early warning system not only means the authorities are alerted much more quickly to a crisis in the making but also enables pay-outs to be immediately made once triggered.

Help is far more likely to reach those who need it quickly, as those countries in the ARC, as a condition of participation, have to put in place effective emergency planning systems. By putting African countries in charge, ARC cuts duplication and delays, leading to faster and better results.

What is even more encouraging is that ARC has already delivered impressive results. Earlier this year, before the international appeal had been even launched to help countries struggling with a lack of rains, it paid out $26m to Senegal, Mauritania and Niger.

This was used to buy livestock fodder and staples for 1.3m people in the communities that ARC’s computer model indicated would be most affected by the drought. It helped already hard-pressed families stay on their land by giving them the breathing space to recover.

These successes – and the fact that studies show every dollar spent on ARC saves over four dollars in international aid – explains why such initiatives are at the heart of international plans to increase the resilience of countries and communities against climate change. The G7 has pledged to support scaling up to provide 400m more people in low and middle income countries protection against climate-related hazards by 2020.

But to achieve this ambition, we need more countries to join and development partners to support the participation of the poorest countries and those with the greatest climate risks. We can’t prevent bad weather but together we can protect the most vulnerable and provide the tools to help them rebuild their lives within their communities.



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