Responding to climate change disasters

Flag of the Red Cross


Bill Radke: It's Day 8 at the U.N. summit in Copenhagen where the world is grappling with climate change. Marketplace reporters Stephen Beard and Sam Eaton are there. This morning, our coverage continues with a look at not global warming prevention, but response. The Red Cross has set up a Climate Center to plan for the human disasters that might come with the changing climate. The head of that center is Madeleen Helmer. Good morning.

Madeleen Helmer: Good morning.

Radke: How do you figure out how to use your resources to plan for a threat that is as generalized as climate change?

Helmer: Well it is very difficult. One of the key innovations I think we bring is improved seasonal forecasts. For example, if a meteorological office says that they expect an increase of rainfall in a certain area, we can use that to better prepare communities for this, to warn them when to harvest or when to sew, to be better prepared for their goats or animals to be brought to safe places. All those kind of small measures can be very crucial when the floods come.

Radke: I associate the Red Cross more with helping once a crisis hits, not so much with disaster prevention.

Helmer: Well this change already happened before we became aware of the climate change risk, and climate change is futher accelerating that awareness. Our task is to protect people as good as we can. And of course we will be there after disasters, but we can do better if we prevent disasters from being very extreme or from happening at all.

Radke: Has the Red Cross taken any actions in response to the threats?

Helmer: Yes, we do a number of things. For example, planting trees against landslides is a very good method. To have positioning of Malaria bet nets in regions where Malaria may move towards. To intensify our Dengue awareness programs in urban areas. And many, many other programs that we can strengthen because of climate change risks.

Radke: I imagine you have a lot of hopes for Copenhagen. What is the Red Cross's number one goal for these climate change talks?

Helmer: Well we hope for what we've seen in the past, that the climate change discussions have been largely about reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further catastrophes to happen. But we're already dealing with unavoidable effects of climate change, it is already happening. And that's been a major extension of the negotiations in the last couple of years. So what we need to get out of this global agreement is that awareness that we will need more resources -- human resources, financial resources -- to protect the most vulnerable people, who are, most of them, in the msot vulnerable countries, to be better prepared for these risks.

Radke: Madeleen Helmer is the head of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center. Madeleen, thanks very much.

Helmer: My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity.


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