5 climate-driven disasters — and how WFP has prepared and responded in 2019

Crises are becoming more frequent and intense, and our capacity to anticipate, mitigate and respond more sophisticated

Climate change-related events threaten to push 100 million people into hunger and increase the risk of malnutrition in children. Photo: WFP/Alexis Masciarelli

Hurricane Dorian— the most powerful cyclone ever to strike the Bahamas — was just one of a string of climate-related disasters in 2019. The number of extreme weather events, including exceptionally severe heat, droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s.

Threatening to push up to 100 million people into severe food insecurity, climate crises have joined conflict as leading drivers of hunger. In the first 6 months of 2019, extreme weather events have displaced 7 million people. If projections are accurate, 2019 will be one of the worst years for related displacement.

In 2019, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been called on to assist millions of people affected by climate change-related events across the globe. Here is a look at five of these disasters — and how we have prepared for and responded to them.

Cyclones Idai & Kenneth — Mozambique

The flooded areas created by torrential rains in the wake of Cyclone Idai looked like ‘inland oceans’. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

With its unprecedented strength and subsequent torrential rains, Cyclone Idai, which hit Southern Africa in March, left in its wake a trail of destruction — and 1.85 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Mozambique alone. WFP teams arrived immediately after, helping rescue people who had remained stranded in isolated areas and supplying them with ready-to-eat, fortified food. WFP also provided nutrition support and longer-term food and cash assistance, reaching a total of 1.6 million people, and worked to restore vital telecommunications. When Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique just over a month after Idai, WFP assisted over 230,000 people.

Prolonged drought and heavy rains — Central America

Five consecutive years of prolonged drought, interspersed with heavy rains, have brought farmers in Central America’s Dry Corridor — which cuts across El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — to their knees. Maize and beans, the main staples in the region, are extremely susceptible to adverse weather conditions and 2.2 million people lost their crops in the 2018/2019 season. Eight out of ten families have been forced to sell agricultural tools and animals, cut back or skip meals and eat less nutritious foods. 1.4 million people do not have enough to carry them through to the next harvest. Children are most at risk, as they might not get the nutrients they need for their development.

As the drought spoils traditional staples, WFP assistance helps farmers diversify crops. Photos: WFP/Sabrina Quezada (L); WFP/Rocío Franco (R)

“We won’t leave anymore. We will earn our money here.”

As well as providing assistance for affected families to get through the lean season, WFP is working to build the resilience of communities through the creation and rehabilitation of assets — including community vegetable gardens and water harvesting and irrigation systems. Among other measures is the diversification of livelihoods through new skills, and the provision of training and support for strengthened agricultural production.

“We won’t leave anymore. We won’t emigrate from this country. We will earn our money here,” says Moisés Rivera, a member of the indigenous Lenca community in Honduras. Moisés had to emigrate to neighbouring El Salvador to find work in the past, but thanks to WFP support he is now making a living out of traditional pottery production.

Monsoon rains — Bangladesh

Home to more than 700 rivers, Bangladesh is increasingly seeing the impact of climate change. In July, torrential rains swept away homes and livelihoods across 20 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, affecting the lives of 2.3 million people.

“Even in our sadness, we are happy. The money has helped me a lot: I bought some dry food, rice and bamboo.”

For 4,500 families, the devastating impact of the flooding was mitigated by anticipatory action taken by WFP and the Government of Bangladesh. When a natural hazard is forecast to exceed a specified threshold, or level of impact, this triggers pre-emptive actions, including cash transfers to vulnerable members of the community, which help reduce the scale and cost of disaster response.

Through this innovative risk-management approach, called Forecast-based Financing, families received a transfer of US$53 which they could use to protect homes, buy food and other items to face the floods, and evacuate if necessary. WFP has also provided food assistance to 250,000 people in three districts in the north of the country.

Anticipatory actions, triggered by weather forecasts, can help mitigate the impact of extreme weather events. Photo: WFP/Sayed Asif Mahmud

“Even in our sadness, we are happy. The money has helped me a lot,” said villager Saleha Begum. “I bought rice, lentils and some dry foods to eat during the flood,” added Sajeda Khatun. “We have also rented a boat to store some of our assets. I cooked food for my family members by making a portable oven on there.”

Drought — Ethiopia

Prolonged drought has had severe negative effects on pastoralist families in Somali Region, Ethiopia. Widespread deaths of livestock and increased food insecurity exacerbate the vulnerability of an already poor population, leading to an estimated 1.8 million people being in need of life-saving food assistance.

Long-running drought has caused the deaths of livestock, a breakdown in pastoral livelihoods and soaring hunger and malnutrition levels. Photo: WFP/Peter Smerdon

To mitigate the effects of drought, WFP is implementing an innovative insurance programme. The Satellite Index Insurance for Pastoralists in Ethiopia aims to keep core breeding animals alive during major droughts, using cutting-edge satellite technology to gauge the availability of forage. When it was launched in 2018, 5,000 pastoralists registered for the insurance scheme in Somali Region, and that number is now up to 7,800 for the 2019 season. The first payouts will be made this year, due to the low availability of forage and vegetation for livestock from the ongoing drought.

Hurricane Dorian — The Bahamas

When Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas in September, it did not catch WFP and local authorities unprepared. In advance of Dorian’s arrival, WFP was able to rapidly deploy technical experts in food security, logistics and emergency telecommunication to support a rapid needs assessment. WFP subsequently airlifted storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs being established on the main islands. It also provided satellite equipment to ensure connectivity for emergency responders, as well as ready-to-use fortified emergency food.

In 2018, after hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, WFP set up an office in Barbados to support preparedness efforts by national authorities and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, also based in Barbados. This proved pivotal in preparing for and responding to Dorian.

WFP’s permanent presence in the Caribbean through its Barbados office helps prepare for and respond to climate-driven disasters in the region. Photo: WFP/Elio Rujano

“We can’t prevent hurricanes, but with a permanent presence in the area we can work to minimize their impact on the affected populations,” said Regis Chapman, Head of WFP’s office in Barbados.

Beyond the traditional provision of assistance to affected communities, WFP is working to restore natural resources and infrastructure to reduce the impacts of climate-related hazards, protect vulnerable populations with climate risk insurance products that ensure farmers will get payouts for the expected crop losses due to the lack of rainfall, and anticipate events through risk analysis, early warning and preemptive action once a hazard is forecast.

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Insight by The World Food Programme