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Can pre-disaster cash and aid help fix climate ‘loss and damage’?

In northern Bangladesh, where annual monsoon floods on the Brahmaputra River often ravage crops and homes, farmers are limiting losses thanks to a system for early warning and aid.

Hasan Ali, 50, a farmer from Chilmari in Kurigram district, received fodder for his livestock 10 days before last year’s flood from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

The WFP support enabled Ali to feed his two cows and two goats when the water struck. By contrast, a few years ago he had to sell his animals after floods drowned crops and grasslands.

“Back then I had nothing to do except shedding tears – but this time dry food before the floods helped me save my cattle from opportunistic buyers,” he said.

More than 150,000 Bangladeshis are covered by the WFP’s pre-disaster support – known as “anticipatory action” – through which aid agencies provide vulnerable people with cash and other essential items before climate-related shocks.

Anticipatory action can help avert the worst effects of climate-related disasters and should be part of discussions on a new fund to tackle “loss and damage” that is due to be launched this year, humanitarian agencies and climate experts said.

Loss and damage refers to the physical and mental harm caused by climate change impacts – from more powerful storms to sea level rise – that cannot be tackled with the traditional twin tracks of cutting carbon emissions and adapting to a warmer world.

Last year, after three decades of campaigning by developing countries, the COP27 UN climate conference in Egypt overcame reluctance from rich donor nations and agreed to set up a loss and damage fund.

But nations are still sharply divided over how it will work.

A “transitional committee” for designing the fund is meeting this week in Egypt for the fourth and final time to put together recommendations to launch the new fund as planned at COP28 in Dubai, starting on Nov 30.

This week’s meeting is trying to overcome disputes including “sources of funding”, “scope and structure of the fund”, and even the “name of the fund”, according to a UN note.

And cash from the planned fund may not start flowing to vulnerable nations for at least another year, said Ritu Bharadwaj, principal researcher on climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK-based think-tank.

She told Context that an effective funding mechanism must distinguish between unavoidable losses and those that can be averted. That would enable the development of new ways to trigger pre-agreed payouts before disasters hit, she said.

Last year, foreign ministers of the G7 wealthy nations committed to scale up support for “anticipatory action” through both “existing financing instruments and … new financing solutions”.

The anticipatory approach is rapidly becoming popular across the world, according to a report by the Anticipation Hub, a knowledge-sharing platform supported by humanitarian agencies.

As many as 35 countries implemented anticipatory mechanisms in 2022, with $138 million committed for the purpose, making 7.6 million people better prepared to avert loss and damage, it found.

Bangladesh – where floods typically affect a quarter of the country during the June to October monsoon season – has “implemented early actions more than any other country”, it said. The nation is also vulnerable to cyclones and droughts.

Md. Nurul Haque Chowdhury, director of relief at the Bangladesh Department of Disaster Management, said the government is working with NGOs and international partners to scale up effective early action.

This year, the Bangladesh government, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, published a climate vulnerability index (CVI) with detailed maps so that local authorities can set aside resources when disasters loom.

One of the beneficiaries is Rahim Mia, a 45-year-old farmer from Jamalpur in northern Bangladesh, who received early warning, cash and evacuation support during the monsoon floods last year from aid agency CARE International.

“We returned home safe – along with the cows that we kept in the cattle shelter built with CARE’s support,” he said.

Kara Devonna Siahaan, head of the Anticipation Hub, said “the evidence is clear that the anticipatory approach works.”

Niger Dilnahar, a WFP Bangladesh programme policy officer for resilience innovation, said 72% of households that received cash a few days before floods or cyclones reported that it helped them ward off harm.

“The poor households can save small things like cooking pots, or a goat, which make a lot of difference for them,” Dilnahar said.

The main focus now is to provide help to more people, across more areas, for more disasters, said Ashraful Haque, a coordinator at the START Network, an international NGO platform that has championed anticipatory action.

Haque said agencies like the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its Central Emergency Response Fund are working with national and grassroots actors to mobilise pre-agreed funds and support for vulnerable communities.

Despite clear benefits, experts said action ahead of disasters is not a silver bullet, and should instead be viewed as a tool linked to other forms of climate finance and humanitarian support.

“A lot remains to be done to protect people from the ravages of climate change,” Farah Kabir, country director of climate justice group ActionAid in Bangladesh, told Context.

Disaster preparedness, including anticipatory action, should not be a substitute for loss and damage funding that developed countries should pay as a matter of climate justice, she said.

A lack of money remains a major obstacle in both the climate and humanitarian spheres, with developing nations fearing that some existing aid may simply be re-labelled as new funding for loss and damage. The United Nations, for instance, said donors provided just $10.7 billion of the $54.8 million it requested to help 362 million people hit by humanitarian crises in the first half of 2023.

Funding for anticipatory action is also limited compared to rocketing needs.

Mazharul Aziz, national programme specialist for Bangladesh at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, noted that reaching tens of thousands of people with voice messages to warn them of a coming disaster would require money.

“We are now raising our voice for more finance for anticipatory action,” he said.

Md Tahmid Zami and Mosabber Hossain, "Can pre-disaster cash and aid help fix climate ‘loss and damage’?," Business recorder. 2023-10-19.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental issues , Climate change , Climate impacts , Disaster management , Farah Kabir , Dilnahar , Bangladesh , WFP

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