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New Report Shows How Aid Operations Can Use Climate Data

Disaster risk managers can improve their decision making by integrating climate information into their operations, writes Richard Choularton, senior policy officer in WFP’s Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction unit.

ROME -- Climate and weather disasters from the massive floods in Pakistan to the devastating drought in Niger have claimed thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damages in the last year.  Climate change is expected to make these extreme events more frequent and intense.

This week, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society published a new report, A Better Climate for Disaster Risk Management, in partnership with WFP, OCHA, IFRC, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

The report details ways in which disaster risk managers can improve their decision making by integrating climate information into their operations. The report shows how climate forecasts typically provided by meteorological agencies can guide contingency planning, logistical preparations, and resource-allocation decisions. At the same time, information about how the climate is likely to change in coming decades helps disaster managers evaluate how investments made today will stand up to future extremes.

The report highlights the innovation of WFP in using climate information to address humanitarian crises and support food security.  For example in Kenya, long-term data from weather stations has shown that droughts have become more frequent and severe in recent years, especially in the northern parts of Kenya. Using this information, WFP has assisted communities with Food for Assets programmes in Taita Taveta to manage drought risk by repairing irrigation canals and improving water storage. These canals provide communities with a buffer against heavy rainfall by collecting excess water and against droughts by using the stored water resources. Since the inception of this project in 2006, crop production has increased by 33 percent and farmers’ incomes have increased by 45 percent.

A Better Climate for Disaster Risk Management details this and 16 other case studies including: integrating rainfall and hurricane forecasts into planning in post-earthquake Haiti; using climate information to link early warning and contingency finance in Ethiopia; and using games to help humanitarian workers better understand how to use complex climate information. The key lessons and recommendations in the report include:

Weather and climate information, especially seasonal forecasts, can be used to help reduce the impacts of disasters by informing preparedness, disaster prevention, and emergency response.  

Partnerships between climate scientists and disaster risk managers are essential to develop trust and creating actionable information. 

Climate information needs to be integrated into existing decision-making platforms to ensure disaster managers can use it in their daily activities and that it helps generate concrete action.

Immediate gains can be made to improve disaster risk management in areas of the world where seasonal forecasts are more reliable, and where better-informed humanitarian decisions can provide relatively strong and immediate returns on investment.

Better funding mechanisms linked to climate early warning are needed. Governments, humanitarian organizations and donors should provide stronger support for preparedness and prevention measures, including more systematic funding for early action based on relevant climate information.

Learn more about WFP and climate change