January 27, 2023

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"Climate change is both a stressor and a risk multiplier," said Anne Witkowsky, US assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations.
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As climate change compounds the impact of crises and conflict, aid workers and politicians are looking for new ways to help those affected and mitigate the damage to their environment.

“Climate change is both a stressor and a risk multiplier,” said Anne Witkowsky, US assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations.



It can lead to “increased crop and fishery failures, water insecurity, depletion of national resources, more frequent extreme weather events and other destabilizing effects”, she told a roundtable at this week’s COP27 UN climate conference in Egypt.

Some 70 percent of refugees and 80 percent of internally displaced people come from countries deemed among those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Four out of every 10 refugees are hosted in climate-vulnerable countries,” said UNHCR climate expert Michelle Yonetani.

READ ALSO: Protecting forests on the frontline of the climate-change battle

They “often live alongside host communities that are in similarly precarious situations” and also need help, she added.

Namita Khatri, the diplomatic adviser for the Asia Pacific at the International Committee of the Red Cross, decried the lack of a global response.

“Climate needs are multiplying, multiplying the humanitarian needs, and are being unmet,” she said.

This burden “cannot be met by humanitarians alone, nor do we necessarily have the experience of climate action to meet these needs that are quite specific and complex”.

Khatri said that collaboration between climate experts and humanitarian workers is key to getting climate finance and expertise to conflict settings.



But climate experts must also accept some additional risks in being more present on the ground, she argued.

– Prevention –

Another key focus is trying to predict climate change impacts on specific communities so that they can adapt.

Donors, however, are more likely to reach into their pockets following a disaster rather than invest in prevention, aid workers say.

But to finance climate prevention efforts in Mali, the World Food Programme (WFP) for the past three years has used an African Union-operated insurance scheme triggered when certain thresholds are crossed, with donor countries paying the premiums.

The West African country has been battling a security, political and humanitarian crisis since 2012 after jihadist and separatist insurgencies erupted.

After a severe drought last year, whose impact on crops still lingers, the WFP received a $7.1 million payment via the scheme that allowed it to help more than 200,000 people in the worst affected regions.

“Every dollar that goes towards prevention helps us save seven dollars,” said Nouhoum Maiga, secretary general of the Malian Red Cross.

– ‘Knowledge is there’ –

The Niger River’s inner delta in the country’s center has “receded by 35 percent”, he told AFP, leaving inhabitants “crammed around the small remaining areas of water”.

Armed groups are using the situation to turn local populations against each other, Maiga added, leading to bloody conflicts and to the formation of militias.

But the deteriorating conditions are caused not “only by climate, but also by the government”, he charged.

According to Maiga, the central government has abandoned the areas, “reinforcing the hold of these armed groups”.

To break this cycle, the Red Cross in Mali aims to empower local communities and boost their capacity to respond to climate-induced crises.

This includes risk assessment and prevention — such as deciding where to move livestock or build homes to protect against floods, or even developing alert systems.

“We organize people so that they are better prepared, and to minimize the effect when the risk arrives,” Maiga said.

He stressed his organization did not seek to impose solutions.

“The knowledge is already there, it must be used.”

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© Agence France-Presse

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