Exploring loss and damage in the context of climate disasters


By Peter Makwanya

CLIMATE-RELATED disasters always come in different forms and magnitude. Where disasters strike, a trail of damage on infrastructure, livestock and human lives is always evident. These disasters happen from the impacts of climate change that are not mitigated or appropriately adapted to or coped with. This results in losses and wide-scale damage that leave communities vulnerable, making it difficult to recover.

Loss and damage represents the actual or potential manifestation of impacts associated with climate change that negatively affect humans and the physical environment.

Events such as cyclones and potential future changes with regards to their frequency and intensity comes into mind. These also include crop losses, disadvantaging farmers of future incomes and food security.

Despite being viewed as large-scale destructions, loss and damage can also be viewed in terms of economic and non-economic circumstances. On the economic side, loss and damage have impacts on the infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, communication facilities), crops, livestock and human lives, including run-away inflation fuelled by consumer prices and exchange rates.

On the non-economic scale, loss and damage largely impact the ecosystem and biodiversity, health and well-being, human lives, erosion of indigenous knowledge systems, culture and identity, among others.

These are usually the result of climate-related disasters such as floods, heatwaves, cyclones, among others. This also includes gradual changes in interaction with a particular development path that either reduces or exacerbates the risk of loss and damage, with changing in rainfall patterns and precipitations coming into play. Furthermore, unplanned urban settlements in already flood-prone areas and dependency on rain-fed agriculture, affect a particular development path.

Although issues of loss and damage are cross-cutting and context specific, they should not be viewed as isolated from the global framework of United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC). This comes about following the establishment of the Warsaw mechanism on loss and damage, associated with impacts of climate change. These also include extreme events and the slow onset events, especially in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Loss and damage have also been taken to refer broadly to harm from impacts and projected risks that go beyond climate impacts. The slow onset events and extreme events, leading to loss and damage around the world are the usual cyclones, floods, heatwaves or salinisations of soil, unsustainable land use practices that are ongoing.

Loss and damage also has a placement on the global Paris agreement, where parties recognise the importance of minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events. This also include the role of sustainable development in reducing the risks of losses and damage.

By situating loss and damage within the UNFCCC Warsaw Integrated Mechanism and also the Paris Agreement, it means this is a broad-based problematic issue requiring correct intervention and diagnosis.

The holistic integration of loss and damage would enhance knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management pathways, aimed at addressing losses and damages associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

This also means that to sufficiently deal with issues of loss and damage at local, national, regional and international levels, dialogues need to be strengthened, including co-ordination and synergies among relevant stakeholders, using the horizontal or bottom-up approach.

Nations also need to scale up their climate action strategies and support, including finance, technology transfer and capacity building in order to address loss and damage scenarios on broader scales.

At local, organisational and institutional levels, loss and damage can be addressed within the context of nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while also factoring adaptation activities as well. This means that there is need to be strong working relationships between the NDCs and national adaptation plans (NAP). The linking of NDCs with NAP would help countries to reinforce and enhance national adaptation actions and build resilience.

It is also important that developing countries view loss and damage not only in terms of impacts but also costs, so that they can be quantified in terms of thousands of dollars. Not attaching specific costs to loss and damage would present challenges in terms of recovery, reconstitution and rebuilding. Costing is also instrumental in factoring loss and damage in disaster risk development planning, projection and forecasting.

The placement of disaster mitigation and resilience is quite instrumental and fundamental in communicating these micro and macro pillars at the heart of disaster risk reduction.

When applied to disasters, mitigation usually means lessening and reducing impacts of disasters, hazards’ severity and their consequences. Resilience usually implies the ability to recover quickly or adjust easily to a disasters or hazards. It is significant in this regard, that although intertwined, these pillars should not be confused for one another.

In this regard, it is hoped that victims of Cyclone Idai in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have, by now adjusted and recovered, although this is a process not an event. It is also believed that the victims of the recent floods in Durban, South Africa would, in the long run, recover and adjust.

With disasters taking place in the southern African region, although at different times, it means that regional co-ordination in disaster mitigation should be a top regional priority, which does not need palliative care or treatment, including paying lip service to it. The ongoing disasters have placed the region at a focal point which can be wished away or ignored at one’s peril.

In this view, before going regional, it is always significant that these countries satisfy their local and immediate disaster needs in order to climate proof sufficiently.

Resilience building is a process, with much greater reach and penetration into opportunities that social institutions and groups inherently possess to effectively manage future scenarios of disaster risks.

The southern African region needs to invest in the following action strategies: increase the availability of the multi-hazards early warning systems and disaster risk information, enhance regional co-operation through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions by 2030, reduce the number of affected communities in the region, reduce direct disasters economic losses at national and regional levels, reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, such as health and education.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com