By environment reporter Shane McLeod for AM
ABC News Online, 21 April 2009
International aid workers say alarming predictions about the impact of climate change are already coming true for some of the world's most disadvantaged people.
The aid group Oxfam believes the number of people affected by climate disasters is increasing and could jump by more than 50 per cent over the next five years.
An estimated 250 million people are affected by natural disasters every year and Oxfam says most of them suffer from the consequences of the weather, like droughts or floods, rather than one-off tragedies like earthquakes.
Oxfam Australia's executive director, Andrew Hewett, is today releasing a report that suggests the combination of poverty and geography will mean the climate's impact on the world's population is about to get a lot worse.
"We project that the numbers of people affect by climate crises - natural emergencies caused by climatic factors - will increase to something like 370 million people over the next six years," he said.
"That's an increase of about 54 per cent.
"That's going to be devastating for the people concerned throughout the developing world in particular, but it's also going to stretch the international humanitarian system beyond coping point."
Mr Hewett says climate change is one of the most important factors in the future of international aid.
"[Climate change is] meaning people who are already living vulnerable existences are going to be pushed over the edge," he said.
"We're looking particularly at the impact of people living in urban areas. But it's the intersection between climate change and poverty which is the real killer here."
Poverty leaves people living in sub-standard housing in areas susceptible to the impact of the weather.
Changing the aid system
Mr Hewett says Oxfam has used the international emergency events database to prepare its report and the alarming predictions.
"The system is under strain, the system won't be able to cope unless there's a very significant change in the way that humanitarian system operates, be it by the United Nations, by national governments, or even organisations like Oxfam," he said.
"We've got to change, but we need better resourcing to help make those changes."
Oxfam's warning is to the world's aid donors. It says the consequences of the changing climate will put a massive strain on global aid budgets.
Mr Hewett says aid donors need to maintain and expand their commitments, and not use the global financial crisis to reduce their aid budgets.
"Looking at the numbers of dollars which will be required, we think there'll be a need for something like $US28 billion, $US30 billion," he said. That means $40.23 billion to $43.10 billion.
"That sounds a lot of money, but it's dwarfed by the amount of money that's been made available over the last few months to bail out banks around the world.
"It's a matter of priorities, it's a matter of recognising our common humanity."