The Red Cross helps with climate change preparedness

Benjamin Suomela / Finnish Red Cross
Isabel Jose Almeida fled Cyclone Idai and the resulting flash floods with her three-month-old baby Inez in the village of Tica in Mozambique. Their home was blown away by the winds, which reached up to 50 metres per second. The family are living in local temporary accommodation.
Image: Benjamin Suomela / Finnish Red Cross

Extreme weather phenomena and natural disasters are increasing with the rise in global temperatures. These disasters cause the most suffering to the poorest people in the world, who also have the least influence on climate change.

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The Red Cross prioritises those who are most vulnerable in its climate change work as well.  
 
The following six examples help illustrate how Red Cross volunteers are helping people and communities prepare for and survive the impacts of climate change and sudden natural disasters in different parts of the world.  
 

1. Drought relief  

Climate change is making dry periods more frequent and disrupting annual rains in many areas, thus exposing people, particularly children, to malnourishment. In response, the Finnish Red Cross is helping supply people with clean water in drought-ravaged southern Africa. 
 
In Muzarabani, Zimbabwe, water used to be extremely difficult to come by. Before the construction of a well and water pipeline, the local health station had to administer medication and deliver children without water. 
 
In local schools, children were fainting from dehydration and afflicted with diarrhoea and infections. Running, clean water is a small miracle that is talked about with pride in the area. Now clean water is available at the turn of a tap from two water supply points, which the Finnish Red Cross constructed with funding from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 

2. Aid in the midst of a cyclone

Tropical cyclones destroy buildings and infrastructure with increasing force. According to the IFRC Climate Centre, the destructive force of Cyclone Idai, which struck Mozambique in March, was most likely increased by climate change. 
 
Climate change has resulted in a rise in the area’s sea level, and the port city of Beira, which was caught in the middle of the cyclone, is located on low-lying ground. The majority of the destroyed homes were dwellings constructed in low-lying areas. 
 
Intensifying heavy rains are causing increasingly severe flooding and ruining cultivated areas. Contaminated floodwater is also effective at spreading diseases. 
 
After a disaster, people need quick access to clean water and working toilets to prevent the spread of diseases such as cholera. Flood waters also provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which spread malaria and other diseases.  
 
Following the cyclone, the International Red Cross deployed emergency response units to Mozambique, which supply water for up to 15,000 and sanitation for up to 20,000 people per day. 
 
With support from donors and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Finnish Red Cross sent a cholera unit and hospital supplies to Mozambique in cooperation with the Canadian Red Cross.  
 

3. The changing climate also impacts health

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnourishment, malaria, diarrhoea and hot weather, for example. 
 
Improving the health of those who are most vulnerable is at the very core of the Finnish Red Cross’s development cooperation. 
 
Drought and poverty are making life more difficult in many countries, such as Somalia. With the support of the EU, the Finnish Red Cross offered cash donations to 1,500 families with malnourished children in the country. 
 
In addition to this, health care services were provided to 28,927 people, of whom 16,438 were children. Thanks to the support, 92 per cent of children received three meals a day and 98 per cent of acute cases of malnourishment were successfully treated. 
 

4. Forecast-based financing under development

Developing early preparedness helps avoid human suffering when disaster strikes. In Zimbabwe, the Finnish Red Cross is piloting forecast-based financing, which the Red Cross movement is among the first to develop. 
 
The hope is that new working methods will improve the efficiency of disaster risk management and help make related efforts more localised. 
 
Forecast-based financing is also being developed in the Philippines, where the Finnish Red Cross has been conducting community-based disaster preparedness work in the slums of Manila and the countryside since 2013 and helped communities recover from the damage caused by storms. 
 

5. Support for the elderly suffering from hot weather

The impacts of climate change are also being felt in Finland, where winter storms and summer heat waves are threatening the older population in particular.  
 
Warmer summers increase the risk of premature death, especially among the elderly. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, the summer 2018 heat wave caused 380 “additional” deaths in Finland. During summer 2018, Red Cross volunteers supported the home care of the elderly in Sotkamo.  
 
Winter storms are also predicted to become increasingly fierce. The Finnish Red Cross helped people and supported the authorities during blackouts caused by crown snow in Kainuu in 2018. People over the age of 75 were visited by volunteers, in addition to which the Red Cross’s logistics supplied the area with generators, water canisters and accommodation supplies.
 

6. Climate change can cause conflicts

Research shows that climate change can escalate or serve as one of the initial causes of conflicts and migration movements. The Red Cross’s basic work includes responding to the humanitarian consequences of both phenomena and people’s needs. 
 
The range of impacts can be wide. When people flee from conflicts or disasters escalated by climate change, hot weather can prove fatal for the people forced out of their homes, for example. In these situations the Red Cross helps people at refugee camps.  
 
Preparing for climate change and repairing the damage that it causes will require additional resources in the coming years. 
 
 
Text: Anna-Sofia Joro