Humanitarian policy and practice in a changing climate: guiding principles for practitioners

Humanitarian policy and practice in a changing climate: guiding principles for practitioners

Humanitarian policies and practices unavoidably have both positive and negative impacts on various aspects of the vulnerability context it aims to address; hence, how we design and implement humanitarian interventions has an impact on future vulnerability to climate change. On one hand, humanitarian interventions risk reinforcing existing vulnerability patterns by increasing the gap between those who benefit from different programmes and those that remain marginalized. On the other hand, addressing climate change may provide new opportunities for transforming the development pathways that create vulnerability in the first place. While the main objective of humanitarian assistance is – and must be – to save lives and alleviate suffering, it makes a lot of sense to do so in a way that also reduces longer-term vulnerability and prevents the recurrence of humanitarian crises.

This report outlines a framework for integrating climate change adaptation concerns into humanitarian policy and practice. Building on case study research from seven different countries in Asia and Africa, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi and Kenya, the report sets out a set of guiding principles for efforts to reduce longer-term vulnerability and limit the recurrence of humanitarian crises. Research for the report was conducted between 2012 and 2016 as part of the international research project ‘Courting Catastrophe? Humanitarian Policy and Practice in a Changing Climate’.

Research findings highlight that climate change intersects with humanitarian crises and how they are managed in four main ways. First, many disasters are climaterelated and climate change may exacerbate the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Second, climate change may contribute to social changes such as poverty patterns that influence the nature of humanitarian crises. Third, how a nonclimatic disaster is handled is critical for how vulnerable a community may be to future climate events, and fourth, humanitarian actions influence any move towards climate resilient development pathways. These insights are fundamental for understanding how to better incorporate climate change concerns into humanitarian policy and practice.

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