New York, Geneva, 23 September 2020 – New analysis published today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre reveals that at least 51.6 million people worldwide have been affected by floods, droughts or storms and COVID-19.
The pandemic is increasing the needs of people suffering from climate-related disasters, compounding the vulnerabilities they face and hampering their recovery.
At least a further 2.3 million people have been affected by major wildfires and an estimated 437.1 million people in vulnerable groups have been exposed to extreme heat, all while contending with the direct health impacts of COVID-19 or measures implemented to curb its spread.
The analysis, which quantifies the overlapping vulnerability of communities, shows that out of 132 identified unique extreme weather events that have occurred so far in 2020, 92 have overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing media at the United Nations headquarters in New York ahead of the High Level Roundtable on Climate Action, IFRC President, Francesco Rocca, said “These new figures confirm what we already knew from our dedicated volunteers on the frontlines: the climate crisis has not stopped for COVID-19, and millions of people have suffered from the two crises colliding. We have had absolutely no choice but to address both crises simultaneously.”
Across Asia and Africa, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have responded to widespread and, in many cases, unprecedented flooding that has inundated communities, swept away houses, wiped out food supplies and disrupted livelihoods. Cruelly, COVID-19 has hampered response efforts, for instance by increasing the burden on already stretched or limited health systems and preventing affected people from seeking treatment for fear of catching the virus.
In the Americas, Red Cross volunteers have been on the ground providing food, shelter and relief items to people affected by deadly wildfires across the western United States, as well as preparing communities for, and responding to, ongoing hurricanes and tropical storms in the region.
“IFRC is uniquely placed to support people living through climate-related disasters and COVID-19 thanks to our network of almost 14 million local volunteers who have remained steadfast in their communities, even as many international organisations had to retreat. They have worked tirelessly to rise to new challenges – from distributing personal protective equipment to adapting evacuation spaces to support physical distancing. Never have I seen a stronger case for localised humanitarian action,” said President Rocca.
Climate Advisor with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Julie Arrighi, said: “While not all climate-related disasters have a direct link with climate change, it is unequivocal that due to global warming we are facing a more volatile climate with more weather extremes. COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities like never before and, as our preliminary analysis shows, compounded suffering for millions of people affected by climate-related disasters.”
Reflecting on the global response to COVID-19, IFRC President Rocca said: “The massive global investment in recovering from the pandemic proves governments can act decisively and drastically in the face of imminent global threats – we urgently need this same energy on climate, and it is critical that the recovery from COVID-19 is green, resilient, and inclusive if we are to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable communities.”
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