‘Invest more in advance aid in the event of natural disasters rather than afterward’

Countries most likely to be affected by natural disasters are not sufficiently prepared for this. This is evidenced by the International Red Cross‘s World Disasters Report 2020. Millions of vulnerable people are therefore not well protected against the effects of climate change.

According to the Red Cross, more than four out of five natural disasters have to do with climate. The number of disasters related to weather or climate has risen by 35% since the 1990s. This year, the emergency aid organisation already had 130 disasters of this kind, and there will only be more in the future, says the Red Cross.

1.7 billion people affected

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Climate Centre, emphasizes that these disasters are not always about climate change. โ€œIt has been the case for years that there are many victims of floods, while the number of geophysical natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes remains stable. You can see that now there are stronger storms, more intense heat waves, heavier rainfall and bigger forest fires.โ€

A total of 1.7 billion people worldwide have been affected by climate-related disasters in the last decade. In doing so, the most vulnerable are hit the hardest. The Red Cross points out that they are often unable to count on aid funds that are actually intended for this.

Underestimated disasters

Especially the impact of, for example, something like a heat wave is often underestimated, says Van Aalst. For example in the Netherlands. โ€œFor a day at the beach, people say. But last summer’s heat wave has led to 650 extra deaths.โ€

According to him, this is not just about people who would otherwise die a few weeks later anyway. โ€œIt is also avoidable deaths, of vulnerable elderly and chronically ill, who would otherwise have survived five, ten or fifteen years.โ€

A heatwave is less often the news as a natural disaster, because it is less appealing to the imagination compared to, for example, a hurricane, he thinks.

In addition, the increase in, for example, the number of storms creates new problems. โ€œTake the Philippines,โ€ says Van Aalst. โ€œPeople have just returned home there, or the next storm is coming again. And in Central America there have never been so many hurricanes.โ€

Help beforehand instead of afterwards

The Red Cross report states that in poorer countries, particularly in poorer countries, much can be gained through better warning systems and preventive measures against disasters.

Only emergency aid is certainly not the best solution, warns the organization. Van Aalst explains that with evacuations, for example, a lot of misery can be avoided. โ€œIn Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands were regularly killed in the 1970s as a result of a storm. Now that has fallen to a few hundred, because people are evacuated on time,โ€ he says.

At the recent supercyclone Amphan in Bangladesh and India, the Red Cross helped evacuate millions of people, saving many lives. In addition, it is cheaper to help people in advance, suggests the organization, than afterwards. For example, more can be done with the same amount of money.