News ID: 256224
Published: 1117 GMT July 23, 2019

How should we cope with climate crisis? Ask survivors to take the lead

How should we cope with climate crisis? Ask survivors to take the lead

By Nanette Antequisa*

It was my birthday recently, and it was sad to “celebrate” with another climate disaster here in the Philippines.

Heavy flooding destroyed the work of farmers in Kapatagan Valley, the rice-growing area of Lanao del Norte province on the island of Mindanao. I know the area well — it is where I started my aid work in the early 1990s.

But the UN tells us this has become routine. Earlier this month it announced that climate crisis disasters are happening at the rate of one a week — but unless they are major catastrophes, they pass unnoticed. These “lower impact events” still cause death, displacement and suffering, and they are occurring much faster than predicted, according to Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction.

Is this new, or is it something that the human race has always had to deal with? Mizutori said it was not a question of choosing between “mitigation” — cutting greenhouse gas emissions — or “adaptation”, which means spending big money on things like protecting roads, power stations and water supplies from storms and floods. Both needed to be pursued.

But the human species has overcome many climatic changes over thousands of years. We tend to forget that we are here because our ancestors used their experiences to adapt, and slowly develop technologies for adaptation. Even if they simply lived in caves, they survived because of social structures — strong families and communities — not super-strong infrastructure, sprawling cities and nation states.

I am not dreaming of going back to the days of our cave-dwelling ancestors. But if we are planning to invest billions, even trillions, in adapting our cities to cope with climate crisis, can we spare a few dollars to strengthen the families and communities of those struggling to survive “lower impact events” right now? When they try to get aid funds, they have to negotiate a maze of processes that they barely understand.

I’ve been working with the UK aid agency Cafod as part of Charter 4 Change, which has been calling for a significant shift in humanitarian funding towards more local and national aid agencies. They are better placed to understand the context and needs of crisis-affected communities.

We need to support disaster survivors, who are overwhelmingly in rural areas, as they develop their own ways of adapting to the climate crisis. Rather than governments and UN agencies imposing standards drawn up by experts and consultants, survivors must be allowed to take the lead. Even if mistakes are made, they will show the best options on the path to resilience.


All this will cost much less than building infrastructure to defend our mega-cities against future disasters. Unless we support the survivors in their communities, they will inevitably seek refuge in those giant conurbations, with their “safe” infrastructures and technologies, sending the cost of those adaptations soaring yet higher. Or the climate refugees will try to migrate to countries believed to be more advanced, where they face being treated as less than human.

The climate crisis is global, but its impact is local. We have seen how rapid global growth has led to disasters at a rate that could wipe out the economic gains made. Every person or society that takes more than they need will leave others more vulnerable. The increasing frequency of climate disasters is surely telling us that we need to rethink our attitudes and approach to development.

We learn from human history that even those in the remotest parts of our planet have the will to achieve resilience. We must trust them, devolve power and believe in their capacity.

They are the people who stand to lose most from the effects of climate disaster, but if they are empowered, it will be the rest of humanity that benefits most.


* Nanette Antequisa is director of the NGO Ecoweb, based in the Philippines.


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