Our Perspective

Climate change adaptation

Building resilience and livelihoods in the aftermath of war

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The UNDP-supported project is working to deliver tangible socio-economic benefits by investing in and restoring ecological infrastructure such as rangelands. Photo: UNDP/Afghanistan

Travelling through Afghanistan, one can see that the country is struggling to recover from 30 years of war. Poverty is especially apparent when you leave Kabul and travel to other parts of the country. UNDP has been in Afghanistan for more than 50 years, working closely with the Afghan government to operate projects across the country’s 34 provinces, but despite significant steps forward, this is a country that faces enormous recovery needs after decades of war, natural disasters and a continuing cycle of violence. After months of preparation, we at UNDP are now starting to implement the “Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Livelihood Options for Afghan Communities” project, the first climate change adaptation project in this country. UNDP is now helping Afghan communities withstand the effects of climate change, and we are focusing on building awareness and planning capacity, as well as demonstrating adaptation activities such as livelihood diversification, resilient water and irrigation infrastructure, and improved agriculture practices. This is a crucial project for poverty reduction in Afghanistan. Sixty percent of the Afghan workforce is employed in agriculture, but climate change impact has been making their lives difficult. Due to prolonged droughts, erratic rainfall and extreme temperatures, the most cultivable land... Read more

Vanuatu: at the apex of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and recovery

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Scenes of the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam. Photo: Shoko Takemoto/UNDP

Early morning, I walked through downtown Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Tropical cyclone Pam certainly left many scars throughout the town: damaged buildings, one-sided trees, destroyed boats, and broken sea walls all silently speak of the immense power of what had swept through the land and the sea on the evening of 13th March 2015. Food security is a concern. The vegetable market at the centre of the town is still closed – there is no fresh produce left anywhere on the islands – and it may take weeks and months before the market will return to colour and life. Climate change and disasters go hand-in-hand in this exposed island nation, and clearly this disaster requires immediate relief. But as I continued walking by the waterfront, passing people, I could not help but notice the friendly smiles and warm good mornings that characterises the charm of the Vanuatu people.   Nambawan Café, a popular outdoor spot for gathering by the waterfront was already open a little before 7am, although it took me a while to notice that it was the same Café because most of the shops and structures around it had changed dramatically. I took the opportunity to speak to the staff... Read more

Building resilience in the face of mounting risks in the Arab Region

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A flood-affected village in Upper Nile State in Sudan. Photo: Fred Noy/UN

Much has been said about the rolling back of development results and vulnerability of communities in parts of the Arab region because of violent conflicts, but less has been said about the increasing changes communities face from natural disasters and risks from climate change. Debates at the recent World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan highlighted that in the 21st century, development will need to be increasingly resilient to shocks and crises, and address the multi-dimensional nature of risk. This holds special relevance to the Arab region, as the most food-import dependent and water-insecure region on the planet today. The Risk Triad: Conflict, Drought, and Climate Change Many communities face the convergence of conflict, and one of the largest mass movements of forced migrants and refugees in modern history, and the exacerbating force of climate change, which brings more frequent and severe droughts, land degradation and food and water insecurity. Out of a population of 357 million, about 150 million in the region are exposed to drought risks. In Somalia, the famine killed between 50,000-100,000 people and displaced 4 million people.  In Syria, the drought of 2006-2010 decimated the livelihoods of more than 20% of the rural population, unleashing... Read more

Disaster resilience? There’s an app for that.

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Improved technology and disaster communication training supported through UNDP's projects in the Philippines helped local authorities obtain information rapidly and coordinate on a response during emergencies such. Photo: Hari Krishna Nibanupudi for UNDP

Mobile phones are helping revolutionize the way we protect communities from disasters. While more traditional measures, such as earthquake-resilient buildings and early warning broadcasts, will continue to be the hallmark of disaster risk reduction, innovations in technology are offering new ways to strengthen resilience. From simple SMS-style early warning messages to full touch-screen enabled ‘hazard maps,’ mobile technologies connect users to real-time disaster info. These innovations provide new ways of sharing life-saving information, but also help ‘crowd-source’ disaster info, allowing users to receive and update hazard-related information in real-time. Such technology has already had impressive results. For example, after the devastating 9.0 earthquake struck the coast of Japan in 2011, 120,000 residents in the Philippines’ exposed coastal communities received warnings of a possible tsunami on their mobile phones. While the tsunami fortunately did not materialize in the Philippines, some 150 coastal districts were nonetheless successfully evacuated. Countries around the world are using technology to raise awareness about disaster threats and create cultures of action. In Uzbekistan, UNDP helped create a mobile app in Uzbek and Russian that can transmit emergency information from the Ministry of Emergency Situations to at-risk communities. “It’s really easy to use,” says Vasko Popovski, UNDP’s Project Manager... Read more

Managing local level risks for sustainable development

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Jambeshwar Maji, 48, works around the lift irrigation unit. UNDP’s partnership with the Government of Odisha is helping communities in Puri in Odisha adapt to extreme weather events. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

“The most effective disaster and climate risk management focuses on the local level.” As a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) practitioner, I heard this often, and yet only once I worked with communities on the ground did I truly understand the idea’s full import. Working with the GoI-UNDP DRM Programme in India showed me that the most successful and innovative DRM efforts start with communities. The Programme’s bottom-up approach allowed community members to identify their own risk management and climate adaptation needs, formulate local development and disaster management plans, and have these approved by elected village councils/representatives. It was particularly satisfying to note the sense of ownership the people had for the plans. While this might sound both intuitive and easy, I learned that a bottom-up approach requires sustained and continuous engagement with community members. It requires numerous meetings and consultations with a large cross-section of people, including women, the elderly and other traditionally overlooked groups. It requires sharing information and knowledge about successful practices with these communities, while also familiarizing these communities with administrative mechanisms and methods of promoting administration-community collaboration. We used this process in India. After the village/community disaster management plans were approved by the village council, the plans... Read more

Why Sendai is important for Africa

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UNDP IS HELPING RWANDA BOOST RESILIENCE TO DISASTERS AND THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. PHOTO: UNDP RWANDA

This week the world will gather in Sendai, Japan, to mark the end of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the beginning of a new global framework on disaster risk reduction (DRR). Sendai is a golden opportunity for Africa to engage meaningfully in the debate and be heard in the light of its current economic transformation. Africa has seven of the top ten fastest growing economies— that growth, if not well managed, will likely contribute to new risks, including the potentially negative fallout from rapid urbanization and industrialization, the intensive use of natural resources and the degradation of ecosystems. One of the biggest achievements of the HFA in Africa has been raising awareness on disaster risk. It has been a tremendous vehicle for engaging African governments, sub-regional and regional institutions on DRR, and an important addition to Africa’s development agenda. The HFA has helped many African nations adopt legislation and shape institutional arrangements that include DRR. Yet, while considerable progress has been made over the last decade, the continent is still facing many challenges. The Horn of Africa and the Sahel region are continuously under threat of drought. Floods annually affect many cities and rural areas, with huge socio-economic impacts... Read more

Inside UNDP: Fides Borja

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Fides Borja with her colleagues and volunteers during Typhoon Ruby Response Operations at the Office of Civil Defense Operations Center.

1. Who are you? I’m Fides Barbara B. Borja, from UNDP in the Philippines.   Growing up, my parents taught us the value of hard work.  I have always dreamt of working in an international organization such as the UNDP, contributing and making a difference. 2. What do you do for work? I provide technical assistance to the Civil Defense Administrator in his role as the Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).  I assist the Philippine government in preparing for high-level international and regional conferences, including the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2015.  I also provide technical assistance for the review of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 and Framework and Plan.  It is an exciting and challenging task because it includes inter-agency coordination as well as policy review of existing issuances and regulations.  I get to experience how the DRRM theories and principles are applied on the ground.      3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP?  Where were you before? I have been working for UNDP since May 2014.  After Typhoon Yolanda struck the... Read more

Haiti: What does it take to transition from humanitarian needs to long-term development?

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Haitians set up impromtu tent cities through the capital after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince in 2010. Photo: Logan Abassi/UN

Haiti has come a long way since the earthquake shook the country five years ago. In spite of the immense challenges, Haiti has made notable progress in health and education, as the Government of Haiti-UNDP Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Report shows. Today the country also has a more risk-informed approach to development, with more retaining walls, safer housing, and simulation exercises for better preparedness. National efforts, supported by both humanitarian and development assistance, have clearly made an impact. But a much bigger impact is needed.   Prior to the earthquake, there were several grave development challenges, including poverty (which today stands at 60 percent of the population). Building standards were poor and houses were built in risk prone areas. With such fragility, the consequences of a small earthquake would be dreadful.   But instead, a huge earthquake struck one of the most vulnerable areas—and hit the poorest hardest. Haiti can prevent future tragedies.  This entails working on priority issues such as education, health, employment, social protection, environment and, importantly, climate change and disaster resilience. This week, the Government of Haiti, the United Nations and partners launched a Transitional Appeal (TAP) seeking US$401 million for the next two years, focusing on boosting resilience... Read more

On the road to Sendai, UNDP draws on 10 years of experience

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With UNDP support, first aid and emergency response trainings are part of Kazakhstan's comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management strategy. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

Over the last 8-months I attended negotiations to agree on a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters. The clear message I've taken from this is that it’s time to shift attention away from rhetoric and advocacy, and towards concrete, country-level action. Making this happen means accepting the fact that disaster risk reduction (DRR) is one and the same as development. And doing risk reduction right means doing development right. Put simply – we might not stop the storm, but we can stop the storm from destroying lives and livelihoods if we build the right houses, in the right places, with the right materials. We are well aware of this fact at UNDP, and have used to it guide our efforts.  Over the last 10 years we’ve been in the trenches with our country level partners and have done everything from passing laws to improving building codes. What we’ve learned in the process is that everything is connected:  law, training, building, it’s all one long thread of risk-informed development. Our new infographic report highlights this and the numbers speak for themselves: We invested at least US$1.7 billion—as much as US$200 a... Read more

Women have a role in Disaster Risk Reduction

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Syphom Village Disaster Management Committee members stand in front of the market that burned down (and has since been completely rebuilt). Photo: UNDP in Lao PDR

Women are a vital piece of the planning process for disaster risk mitigation and response, enhancing disaster planning with different perspectives that often focus on community needs and vulnerable groups. As a Disaster Risk Management Specialist for UNDP Lao PDR, I spent 13 months training district and provincial government officials in community based disaster risk reduction.  In a nation where 80 per cent of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture for survival, natural disasters cause loss of lives, income and communal assets, and destroy livelihoods.  Extreme recurrent disasters consistently take their toll. The Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC) is the result of community-led, local disaster risk management systems implemented by UNDP’s Integrated Disaster and Climate Risk Management Project and the Government of Lao PDR.  The goal of the committee is to spread disaster preparedness information, create a functioning early warning system, and plan activities that could reduce disaster risk. Women play an important role in the process. We’ve noticed that many women in our VDMCs are especially proactive. They understand the consequences disasters have on their villages and the potential long term impacts, and they really want to make a difference for the future of their children and their communities.... Read more

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

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