IMPACT Initiatives commits to informing climate change related risks
for crisis-affected populations around the world
2020 was the warmest year ever recorded across the globe. Before that, the ten warmest years on record occurred between now and 1998. Nine of those happened directly after 2004. Human activities are responsible for driving climate change at an unprecedented pace. These rapid changes are creating an increase in the frequency, and intensity, of natural hazards such as such as storms, floods, droughts, and extreme temperatures as well as provoking a rapid decline in global biodiversity. From 2000 to 2019, disasters are estimated to have resulted in close to 3 trillion USD of global economic losses. In parallel, the global adaptation commission estimates that investments of 1.8 trillion USD in adaptation measures would return more than 7 trillion USD in avoided costs and other benefits. Poor and fragile countries are at the forefront of this global crisis. The Germanwatch Climate Risk Index shows that out of the ten countries most affected by extreme weather events, seven are among the least developed countries in the world. In 2021, once again the global risk report from the World Economic Forum has ranked failure to act on climate as one of the biggest threats to society.
There are immediate life-threatening manifestations of this global crisis: decrease in food security, increase mortality from water and air pollution, or disaster induced displacement. There are also cascading consequences. For example, competition for dwindling resources is exacerbating tensions between nations and communities, increasing the risk of violent conflict. And finally, persistent inequality compounded by COVID-19, means that vulnerable households in the world’s poorest and fragile states, are not equipped to deal with multiple shocks. This is causing more challenges for people to survive. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates that by 2050 the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance every year as a result of storms, droughts, and floods could double to 200 million people. In its worst-case projections, the Federation estimates that climate-related humanitarian costs will reach $20 billion per year by 2030, which is almost the cost of the entire humanitarian response sector.
Tackling this highly complex crisis means decision makers need to have reliable, timely and quality information to find common solutions to this global challenge. Understanding the drivers of climate change and evaluating its impact in fragile contexts is critical to inform resilient sustainable development. Capitalizing on the increasing availability of information, IMPACT Initiatives supports both humanitarian and development agencies translate data to knowledge to : i) be better prepared before a crisis ii) respond in a climate and environmentally conscious manner iii) design long term solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation.
IMPACT Initiatives, notably via its REACH, AGORA, and PANDA initiatives, is increasingly committing research efforts to inform the aid community on how to tackle climate risk. The objective? To identify evidence-based solutions that can be applied in fragile contexts to strengthen the resilience of communities. How? By conducting scientifically robust risk assessments, working with local actors to develop a better understanding of risk, and building local analytical and communication capacities.
- Via regular data collection processes, REACH monitors the humanitarian situation of populations affected by natural hazards and provides granular information on their needs and vulnerabilities.
- Through earth observation, and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), REACH analyses hazards and exposure to severe weather conditions to better inform preparedness and resilience.
- Working with local authorities, AGORA provides granular information on disaster risks to inform locally owned disaster risk reduction activities
- Capitalizing on robust data and analytics, AGORA works with communities to improve disaster risk management and invest in local capacities.
- Supporting partners with PANDA to implement robust risk and climate vulnerability assessments.
All updates from our research on climate resilience will be regularly shared in the Climate Watch thread below.
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04/03 – Ukraine – When climate change compounds conflict: the fight against wildfires in Eastern Ukraine
The impacts of climate change In Eastern Ukraine are becoming increasingly clear as the frequency of natural hazards such as droughts, heat waves, dust storms and wildfires continue to rise. In summer and autumn last year, drought conditions resulted in major wildfires in Luhansk oblast, damaging 500 homes and leading to 11 deaths in 32 settlements across the region.
These climate risks severely compound an already precarious situation in a region that has been suffering from the effects of a protracted conflict since 2014. Frequent shelling, land mine fields, and the contamination of unexploded ordnance in the Luhansk forest belt, which has been intersected by the conflict`s contact line since 2014, make the area extremely susceptible to wildfire risk, as highlighted in the IMPACT area-based risk assessment for Popasna raion. In addition, the area is heavily industrialised and decaying infrastructure and disruptions to health care access further hinder resilience.
Across the wider Sea of Azov area, milder winters and reduced precipitation has also led to agricultural stress and reduced crop yields. Eastern Ukraine was not alone in facing the impacts of climate change, with major wildfires also occurring in the Chernobyl region in April last year. The forest fires in the Chernobyl region started in the exclusion zone close to the nuclear reactor, lasting for several weeks. Firefighting was complicated by frequent changes in wind direction and lack of roads, making vehicle access difficult in the response efforts. Polluted air from the fires was recorded as far away as Cherkasy, Poltava and Dnipro.
In such cases, prompt geospatial information to inform early warning, monitoring, and response to wildfires can make a difference in disaster prevention, preparedness, and protecting communities. Through the combination of satellite imagery and real time data from drones, remote sensing can be an effective and complementary way of providing essential information in wildfire response, in addition to providing added situational awareness and safety for response personnel which is crucial especially in the context of Eastern Ukraine.
Under the 3P Consortium project to Prepare, Prevent and Protect civilian populations from disaster risks in conflict-affected areas, IMPACT Initiatives provided ad-hoc mapping support to the Luhansk Emergency Service department during the wildfires. These maps helped to identify fire-affected areas through active fire detection and fire spread monitoring, based on satellite data from the Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) and information on critical infrastructure and vulnerable communities.
In addition , IMPACT Initiatives provided the department with a drone and conducted training in geospatial analysis, highlighting the importance in the complementary use of drones and satellite data, such as that from the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, in wildfire disaster management.
A better understanding of disaster risks helps build awareness among affected populations, notably local communities, authorities, land planners, and state emergency services. Data feeds into the Disaster Risk Management cycle – not only to inform risk analysis but also to inform better preparedness, resilience, and response. This Ukraine example shows that the way in which data is collected and shared throughout the Disaster Risk Management cycle can make a vital difference in disaster prevention, disaster preparedness, and protecting first responders and communities in the event of a disaster.
For more information, please feel free to download the full “IMPACT area-based risk assessment for Popasna raion” report.
05/02 – Syria – Shelters for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Northwestern camps are vulnerable to flooding
Displacement associated with disasters and the effects of climate change is one of today’s most serious humanitarian and development issue. In the first half of 2020 alone, disasters triggered 9.8 million new displacements, and most were linked to weather-related hazards such as storms, floods and droughts. In northwest Syria, extreme flooding events are devastating families already reeling from ten years of conflict, displacement, economic ruin, and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Seasonal floods have become increasingly severe in the region, gradually eroding the resilience that communities have against ongoing and future shocks. Understanding the role of climate change, how it compounds the crisis in Syria, and what can be done about it, is critical.
Flood hazards are a product of flood depths and flood velocities. Deep water and high velocity flows pose a great risk to people and their property, particularly in situations where shelters, roads, and other infrastructure are poorly constructed or maintained. This is often the case in the informal IDP settlements in Northwest Syria where storms and floods have devastating effects for communities residing there.
The flood hazard mapping process utilized by the REACH Syria team involves several stages beginning with the delineation of catchments/watersheds and the definition of major overland flow paths and streams. Utilising SAGA terrain analysis, hydrology and channel tools to process Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, flow paths and catchments for the whole of Syria were defined.
In parallel the REACH Syria team in partnership with UNOSAT was working to identify IDP shelters from satellite imagery using a combination of machine learning detection algorithms and manual interpretation of imagery by analysts from the REACH and UNOSAT teams.
Using the high-level overland flow and catchment data and the IDP shelter locations, the team was able to overlay the two in order to identify areas where high IDP shelter densities lay in close proximity to major overland flow paths. Using this method, supplemented by numerous reports of flooding from local news agencies and CCCM cluster members over the past 5 years, the catchment of northern Dana was selected as the study area for a more detailed flood hazard assessment.
Simulating flood-like conditions in the northern Syrian context by feeding data into a hydraulic modelling software, REACH teams were able to evaluate locations within the area that were most exposed to severe flood hazards, and also identify which infrastructure and settlements were most vulnerable.
Results from the hydraulic modelling exercise revealed that during modeled extreme rainfall events, nearly 2,500 IDP shelters within the study area are exposed to a significant flood hazard.
26/01 – Sahel – Climate change, compounded by COVID-19, is pushing migrants to the brink
Described as a Ground Zero for climate change by the United Nations, the Sahel region hosts some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. Yet climate change is just one of the many challenges Sahelians are forced to contend with. Most regions face the dire consequences born from ongoing conflict, food insecurity, and political instability. The combination of these issues, further compounded by the spread of COVID-19 and the measures taken to fight it, act as threat multipliers in some of the most crisis-affected communities globally.
For Sahelian populations who traditionally rely on movement to sustain their livelihoods and meet their basic needs, measures taken to fight COVID-19 in the region as well as nefarious environmental impacts created by climate change have severely reduced their capacity to cope.
Mobility dynamics in the Sahel build on long-standing migration patterns developed over generations, often part of the livelihood strategies to cope with the seasonality of the climate.
Environmental migration patterns are central to populations in Niger & Burkina Faso where accessing additional livelihoods is vital to counter insufficient agriculture-based revenues, and lack of food, itself a result of unpredictable climate. This fine balance, between insufficient harvest yields and vital seasonal migration patterns to complement, has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. Movement restrictions, especially across borders, have had devastating effects for migrants in the Sahel.
Given the current circumstances presented by COVID-19 and increasing climate change trends, there exists a general lack of understanding of the complex linkages between these two phenomena and migration.
The freshly published report “Pushed to the brink? The impact of COVID-19 on environmental migrants in the Sahel”, conducted by REACH, in partnership with the Start Network as part of its Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) aims to increase this understanding- to offer better solutions for aid actors to respond to this crisis of mounting importance.
09/09/20 – Pairing satellite data with household surveys to locate high flood risk areas in the Central African Republic
In late 2019, a destructive flood event that occurred in the months of October and November in the Central African Republic (CAR) occasioned the displacement of over 100,000 individuals and caused considerable damage. Historically, inclement rains in CAR have destroyed shelters, obstructed transportation routes, and increased the incidence of diseases like cholera and malaria. The tropical climate of the country, characteristic during the rainy season, is exacerbated by climate change trends which lead to more frequent and destructive flooding of towns and villages. The unexpected nature of such natural hazards reduces the resilience that communities have against shocks, leaving them more vulnerable to the consequences.
Through remote-sensing, REACH conducted a flood susceptibility analysis to classify areas within CAR that are more likely to flood, in an effort to inform enhanced preparedness. Results were then paired with indicators selected from the 2019 Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment conducted across CAR, in order to develop a measure of relative consequential flood risk. The risk component accounts for where the impact on affected communities would be the worst, based on previously reported vulnerabilities. Based on needs and vulnerabilities reported by affected populations living in the most at-risk areas, the analysis showcased areas where the compounded impact of flooding would likely be the worst.
The analysis produced two outputs that are useful for planning response on the ground. First, a spatial representation of flood susceptibility, followed by a flood risk score for each prefecture and sub-prefecture assessed. Data revealed for example that the Ouham and Kemo prefectures have the highest flood risk, while Ouham Pendé and Nana-Mambéré prefectures have the lowest. These calculations are based on a combined measuring of exposure, vulnerability, and hazard to flooding.
The flood risk score involved clipping the flood susceptibility layer to just the inhabited areas. This revealed that a significant portion of cities are highly susceptible to flooding. Many settlements in CAR are strategically located near rivers and tributaries which sustain the livelihoods of residents as a mode of transportation and means of sustenance. The banks of these waterways tend to overflow to accommodate the increasing amount of rainfall collected in these watersheds.
As a consequence, without any adaptation or contingency, the natural environment’s way of dealing with climate change will continue to impact affected populations, that are already suffering from conflict, and other shocks. The humanitarian community delivering assistance to affected populations in CAR must coordinate to mitigate the risks imposed by shifting climate trends. Failure to do so will inevitably impact the living conditions of entire communities, by diminishing their livelihoods and putting them at further risk.
22/01/20 – Climate change and natural hazards in Bangladesh show the need to focus on vulnerable populations
Living in a country where a quarter of the land is barely above sea-level, the people of Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the havoc wrought by natural hazards. Those who live along the coastline are even more prone to the destruction brought by sudden-onset disasters, whilst a rising population density makes the risk reality for millions today.
Bangladesh has a history of devastating cyclones: at the end of 1970, the deadliest cyclone on record resulted in over 500,000 deaths; in April 1991, a devastating cyclone hit the Chittagong district of southern Bangladesh causing over 130,000 reported fatalities; and in 2007, the destruction brought by Cyclone Sidr led to another 3,000 causalities. While certain measures, such as the construction and use of cyclone shelters, have helped reduce the number of cyclone-related causalities, Bangladesh is unable to fully cope with the devastating consequences of disasters caused by natural hazards. Further compounding this complex and precarious situation has been the influx of Rohingya refugees in August 2017, leading to roughly 900,000 Rohingya refugees now living along the southern coastline of Bangladesh. Fear of the wreckage a powerful storm would cause across the refugee camps is a constant concern for responders on the ground as well as the Bangladeshi government.
In order to help populations most vulnerable to the effects of cyclones and other natural disasters, REACH has been working to establish a baseline understanding of population centers, natural hazards, the natural environment, and hazard mitigation measures in both host communities and refugee populations. Through a combination of assessments, mapping exercises, trainings, and as the co-chair of a subgroup of technical experts mandated under the Information Management and Assessment Working Group (IMWG) as the Natural Hazard and Risk Analysis Task Force (NatHaz TF), REACH has helped to collect, streamline, and standardize information- valorizing how it should be interpreted in Cox’s Bazar. The NatHaz Task Force is a dedicated sub-group of technical experts mandated with unifying, analyzing, and then disseminating digestible natural hazard information destined for operational actors on the ground.
Through continued coordination and capacity building endeavors, REACH facilitates information gathering and sharing to help improve Bangladesh’s ability to respond to natural hazards and to assist those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
17/05/19 – Assessing humanitarian needs after Cyclone Idai proved two things – the first was the importance of baseline data
Natural hazards such as cyclones and heavy rains are becoming increasingly common on the southern shores of Africa. This trend driven by climate change was made visible in Mozambique where Cyclone Idai swept over the city of Beira and neighbouring provinces across to Zimbabwe. As extreme weather patterns become mainstream, the significance of data required to build preparedness is brought to the forefront of humanitarian action. So is the necessity for rapid response in assessing the needs of affected populations.
Between March 14th and 15th, Mozambique was struck by the culmination of a storm that had gained momentum over the region for the past weeks. When Cyclone Idai made landfall, it brought destruction and damage in its path. The urban areas of Beira, its port, and the rural regions in the surrounding Manica and Sofala provinces all felt the impact of the winds and rain. Idai caused substantial flooding and left entire communities submerged under water, bereft of shelter and in urgent need of assistance.
When Elliott Messeiller, senior REACH assessment officer part of the REACH deployment team, landed in Beira, the cyclone’s impact was visible at every turn. So was the lack of data. Response actors were hitherto forced to navigate with what little information they possessed. The gap between what was available and what was needed readily apparent.
From April 1st to 17th, two weeks after Idai swept across the country, REACH carried out a mapping and survey exercise across the hardest hit regions. The assessment reached beyond urban centres and main settlements to hard-to-reach areas that were only accessible by foot, boats or 4×4’s.
Among the key findings from the multi-sector needs assessment:
- Food was the most frequently cited priority need by households assessed.
- At the time of data collection, crop lands were reportedly still flooded in 59% of assessed areas.
- 87% of flooded areas reported a substantial loss of crops and livestock, posing serious food security threats.