Our Perspective

Climate change adaptation

Why is disaster risk governance so essential?

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In Nepal, UNDP's Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme includes initiatives such as the training of first responder including rope-climbing for emergency response and search and rescue volunteers in flood-prone areas of the country. Photo: UNDP Nepal

It has come as a bit of a surprise to me that the recent UN negotiations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction led to serious discussions among member states about whether the term ‘governance’ should be included in the text. I was particularly surprised given that the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005 – 2015 already included the term, and a big portion of the work at country level these last 10-20 years has focused on strengthening governance arrangements for DRR. By the 1990s, numerous countries had established dedicated national disaster management authorities—often with the support of UNDP—and devised corresponding policy, legal and planning frameworks, so as to enable DRR action. At the time, I worked for the UN in the Pacific and saw first-hand how the focus was gradually shifting from emergency preparedness and response to disaster risk reduction. As the understanding of the complex causes of disasters grew, more actors entered the fold, including representatives of academia, NGOs, civil society and local communities. These actors all had a stake in influencing risk levels, and so needed to be a part of the solution. As vulnerability to natural hazards was increasingly understood to be more than just physical... Read more

Bringing about the 'Good Change' (together)

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A woman washes clothes outside her flooded house. Heavy rains in 2013 resulted in floods in 20 provinces throughout the north-west and along the Mekong River in central and southern Cambodia, killing 188 people and affecting more than 1.7 million. Photo: Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom for UNDP

In the last decade, Cambodia has halved its poverty rate and improved the living conditions of its population. Yet because of extreme climate events that regularly descend on the country, Cambodia remains one of the most disaster-vulnerable countries in Southeast Asia. In 2013 alone, losses caused by floods added up to USD $356 million. Disasters are tragic because of the consequences on human life and well-being, but they also present an opportunity to promote what UNDP now calls “risk-informed development.” Various actors and communities can—and should—work more closely together to create effective, multi-disciplinary approaches to respond to disasters and promote disaster risk reduction.   Take the 2013 floods as an example. A combination of heavy rains and the swelling of the Mekong River caused widespread damage to infrastructure and crops. 168 people died, most of them children, and 20 provinces were devastated, with thousands of hectares of rice destroyed and hundreds of kilometers of rural roads badly damaged. Following the floods, the Cambodian government requested that UNDP work with various partners to carry out a Post Flood Early Recover Needs Assessment. Drawing on the expertise of UNDP’s country office, as well as the skills and knowledge of government partners, NGOs, and... Read more

Reducing poverty and building resilience to climate change in Myanmar’s Dry Zone

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A man fills his water container from the Taung Shae village tube well, in the Dry Zone of Central Myanmar. Photo: UNDP Myanmar

In the undulating plains of the Dry Zone of central Myanmar, the Kingdom of Pagan flourished between the 11th and 13th century, largely thanks to productive agriculture supported by skilled water management techniques. Today, if it were not for the hundreds of pagodas that still remain standing, it would be hard to believe that a Kingdom once prospered here. There is little trace of the rich and fertile agricultural land, extensive canals, and abundant water that once existed in the heart of this now Dry Zone. When I arrived in the village of Taung Shae in the Dry Zone, the popping noise of a diesel pump was reverberating in the air.  A water-less community pond, in disrepair with a cracked bottom, illustrates the importance of water infrastructure for this community. But a villager proudly tells me that their tube well is 250 metres deep and now water is available throughout the year.  He says he collects 300 Myanmar Kyat (about US$0.30) per 200 litres from villagers to maintain the pump. In the village of Sin Loo Ey, villagers were busy with shelling peanuts. They tell me that the harvest is not as good as they hoped this year, but not bad... Read more

What can be done to ensure global agreements include and are relevant to Small Island Developing States?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. (Photo: UNDP)

Today the United Nations and observers marked the official closing of the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a reflection of a global agreement by governments to put these countries, small dots as they are on a global map, in the spotlight for all to see their development challenges and realities in the 21st Century. In this year, 2015, when so many global development processes are coming to a head, including efforts to define and mobilize financing for development, agree a new disaster risk reduction framework in Sendai, and adopt the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a new climate change agreement in Paris under the UNFCCCC, the question to be asked is for SIDS is, what can be done to ensure that these global agreements include, and are relevant to SIDS, their size, circumstances and capacities? These countries, which represent over one-quarter of the UN membership, together with their many partners, gathered in Samoa last September for the Third International Conference on SIDS, a once-in-a-decade opportunity, to present their aspirations for the future.  The voices of islanders are a clarion call to the international community: addressing their sustainable development needs goes hand in hand... Read more

Innovation brings new approaches and integration

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Egyptian youth explore gamification at UNDP Egypt innovation lab. (Photo: UNDP Egypt)

A few years ago, UNDP Egypt began an exciting innovation for development (I4D) journey experimenting with new and creative approaches for development solutions. This approach has become more focused and deliberate with the implementation of UNDP’s Strategic Plan. In undertaking this journey, we are mindful that what we do on innovation must contribute to development results. Innovation just for the sake of it is simply not enough. Innovation is about doing development better, using new approaches to design and achieve lasting results. It is essential if our organization is to keep pace with and lead response to fast changing, dynamic and complex development challenges. We are putting people at the heart of our work, by engaging citizens, policy makers and entrepreneurs. Through design thinking, co-creation, crowdsourcing, story-telling, gamification, open data, and other non-traditional approaches and tools, we can help our national partners to address their development priorities more effectively. In early 2013, our office adopted a portfolio-based approach to our work, breaking down silos and providing more opportunities for joint programmes.  Our I4D team works with all portfolios to embed innovative approaches into our programmes. For instance, with FabLab we are applying design thinking in developing prototypes to adapt public spaces... Read more

Collaboration must be at the heart of climate action and sustainable development

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UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visits a fair organized by the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility and UNDP at the COP20 in Lima, Peru. (Photo: UNDP/Peru)

We have unprecedented opportunities – now and in 2015 – to strengthen co-operation on tackling climate change. On the one hand current climate change talks in Lima should advance negotiations on the new global climate deal, to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015. On the other hand, discussions are currently taking place at the UN in New York for a “post-2015” development agenda, in which tackling environmental degradation will be prominent. Also, at Sendai in Japan next March, the UN 3rd World Conference on Disaster Reduction will address issues directly related to adaptation to climate change. These are crucial opportunities, since climate change poses a pressing challenge for advancing poverty reduction in developing countries. Also, the most recent report by the international scientific advisory panel on climate change, known as the IPCC, reminds us that the poorest and most vulnerable people bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Meeting this challenge head on will require collaboration across the public and private sectors and the full engagement of civil society and indigenous peoples. From my work as Administrator of UNDP, an organization which supports more than 140 countries to design and implement their own solutions to climate... Read more

National finance helps Asia-Pacific lead the way on Climate Change

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With UNDP's support, rural residents in Bangladesh now have the resources and capacities to build back better and become resilient in the face of environmental threats. Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh

A vital round of United Nations climate change negotiations is underway in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12. This marks a significant milestone for the crucial Paris Summit on climate change that is a year away. At the climate talks in Lima, climate finance will again be at the forefront of negotiations and key in reaching a new global climate agreement. Initiated at the Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September, pledging towards the Green Climate Fund almost reached $10 billion. So far, countries in the Asia Pacific region have received a quarter of all global public climate finance. India and China are the largest recipients. Nineteen dedicated climate funds and initiatives have approved more than $2 billion for projects in the region, since 2003. With many countries in Asia Pacific at the frontline of climate change, bolstering resilience of low lying deltas and small islands, and reducing emissions from fast industrializing nations is a good investment. While this international financing is crucial, for it to have a sustained impact and leverage the investments needed it is also important that planning and budgeting systems are revisited through a climate lens. With the support of the United Nations through the Poverty and Environment... Read more

Against all odds: Egypt's fight against Climate Change

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Residents of Alexandria enjoy the seaside in Egypt. Photo credit: Dylan Lowthian/UNDP

It’s less than a week to COP20, the UN climate change summit where nearly 200 governments will meet in Lima, Peru. This is an important opportunity for the global community to make progress on a universal and meaningful global climate change agreement, to be agreed in Paris in 2015. Reaching an agreement is often a hard process, but if everyone is committed to it we can break through. Egypt is one example. The Nile delta is the richest farmland in Egypt. It is fascinating that, while it covers only 5% of the total area of the country, it is home to 95% of its population. But this beautiful area dotted with tourist sights and industries faces a harsh reality: Coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise threatens low lying lands and has a direct and critical impact on the country’s entire economy. In 2010, we started working on coastal protection, with a grant from the Special Climate Change Fund.  Our project promotes the idea that we should work with the sea rather than trying to fight nature. “Living with the Sea” became our strategy, as we aimed to strike a balance between protective, hard, infrastructure such as seawalls, and reinforcing the protection... Read more

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs?

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... Read more

Cambodia turns climate change crisis into opportunity

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Ms. Khel Khem, a member of the Older People Association Bak Amrek village of Battambang, shows how she adapted her home garden to floods. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

Cambodia is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is not only due to climate risks, but also to lack of capacity to adapt and respond.  Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited knowledge, infrastructure and opportunities; and more than 70 percent rely on agriculture that is heavily sensitive to climate change, putting the country’s economic and social development at risk. Cambodia’s efforts to fight climate change began in 1995 when the country ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and later acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. In 2006, the Cambodia national adaptation programme of action to climate change (NAPA) was developed. In late 2013, the country launched its first-ever comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Plan, recognizing climate change as a challenge to development requiring urgent and joint attention. This is the highest political commitment in combating climate change in Cambodia. Now the crucial question is “What’s next?” – How will the strategic plan be effectively implemented in order to achieve its vision and strategic goals? We, at UNDP, have been providing technical and financial support to the Government to develop climate change policies and plans. One of... Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

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The provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live... Read more

Bhutan continues to face the risk of glacial lake flooding

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The film crew seen here during the production of the 'Himalayan Meltdown' documentary. Photo: UNDP Asia/Pacific

In Bhutan, about 5,000 meters above sea level, meltwater trickles down from glaciers to form some of the greatest rivers in the world and provide freshwater and energy to nearly 1.3 billion people throughout the Himalayas. But with the effect of climate change, glaciers are melting too fast, jeopardizing an economy mostly based on hydropower production, but also endangering lives. Water can accumulate in unstable lakes on the glaciers, and when these lakes become too heavy, their natural barriers burst , setting loose a massive volume of water, boulders and mud, causing significant damages in the valleys below. Between 2008 and 2013, the Government – with our support and financial assistance from the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Government of Austria and the World Wildlife Fund – successfully lowered the water level of Lake Thorthormi, a glacial lake that ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country. Bhutanese men and women trekked to an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level to excavate moraine and rocks in near-freezing water against the strikingly cruel contrast of beautiful ice-capped Himalayan Mountains. It is an image that vividly depicts the unfairness associated with climate change and the fact that these communities who... Read more

Can small islands expect a sea-change from the latest UN development conference?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. Photo: UNDP/Comoros

This week, the tiny Pacific island of Samoa is hosting the UN’s 3rd international conference on small island developing states – or SIDS. It’s a novelty for sure; an island nation of less than 190,000 people suddenly plays host to over 3000 people from around the world. But the island’s embrace of the event is also indicative of the scale of what’s at stake; it’s about survival. Climate change threatens to not only undo many years of impressive development progress but to erase whole countries and cultures. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Samoa wrote simply, ‘we are drowning’. So what will be achieved this week? With small populations and limited international influence many islands often slip through the cracks in larger – and wealthier – countries’ list of priorities. Most SIDS have underscored their significant fragility and vulnerability, especially to shocks such as extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The devastation caused over US$1 billion in damages, equivalent to over 200% of the country’s GDP. In addition to the terrible human cost of such disasters, there are also significant reconstruction costs and some countries have seen their debt... Read more

One number that tells a much bigger story in the Pacific

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With support from UNDP and funding from the GEF, the Government of Samoa has stepped up to integrate climate risks into the agriculture and health sectors and into forestry management. Photo UNDP/Samoa

Small islands face big challenges. This week’s Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa probes some of the most pressing ones. How do we protect our ocean resources for future generations? How do we prepare for the destructive forces of climate change on fragile islands? How can countries find the human and financial resources to sustain productive businesses, homes, schools and health services? How can countries stem rising youth unemployment? The list is as long as the oceans are wide. There is one important, often overlooked development indicator that lurks behind these larger issues and is a pre-condition for development progress in all countries. This worrisome indicator which is under discussion this week is mentioned in a new United Nations report, The State of Human Development in the Pacific: a Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a Time of Rapid Change. The report is being launched days ahead of the SIDS Conference in Samoa. What is it? Life expectancy. It provides a simple measure of the overall health status of a population. And the picture in the Pacific is not good. An average person in New Zealand or Australia can expect to live about 10 years longer than a person... Read more

Boosting resilience in the Caribbean

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Investing in the resilience of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with climate change is crucial. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/UNDP

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise. Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23. Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position. In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which... Read more

In Africa, grassroots women tackle climate change

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Organic vegetables grown for sale by members of the Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative in Kenya. Photo: UNDP in Kenya

Small, portable stoves that require only one piece of wood to prepare a meal, bio-gas digesters that turn cow dung into gas for cooking, and drip irrigation techniques to save water were among innovations shared by grassroots women leaders from Africa during a recent policy dialogue and learning exchange in Nairobi on building resilience to combat climate change and disaster.   Organized by UNDP, Huairou Commission and GROOTS Kenya, the event brought together grassroots women leaders from 11 countries with policy makers from throughout Africa and representatives from the international community. Throughout the three-day workshop, it became evident that grassroots women in communities in Africa are not waiting to be told how to cope with climate challenges, but are initiating, adapting and sharing innovations themselves. “We have seen women mobilizing themselves before being mobilized,” said Isaac Kabongo, executive director of the Ecological Christian Organization in Uganda.  “Women are becoming the drivers of change in the communities in which they live, and are showing that they are very much willing to work together with all partners and institutions to move forward on the journey to resilience.” The need for reliable, sustainable energy was a cross-cutting, common need, and was voiced by women... Read more

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