How climate change threatens aid delivery

Men and women discuss the changes related to the climate, crop production and livestock management in a village in western Kenya. Climate change can impact development projects and their implementation on the ground. Photo by: C. Schubert / CCAFS / CGIAR / CC BY-NC-SA

Foreign aid donors don’t know enough about how climate change will impact their programs — and they should start doing more research to get up to speed on the effects of global warming, according to a top development expert.

That research would allow donors to better understand how health, education and other social service delivery projects stand up to the threats posed by climate change — what Charles Cadwell, director of the Urban Institute Center on International Development and Governance, calls a “stress test.”

“You think about your service delivery, it’s all going to be affected by climate that is combined with demographic changes closing like scissors,” he said Wednesday during an event hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Scientists predict that climate change could have significant impacts on sea levels, storm systems and disease patterns that disproportionately affect the world’s poor. Understanding how these threats could potentially upend the implementation of services, Cadwell noted, is essential for maintaining targeted reforms and aid effectiveness.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, for instance, gives $300 million a year to Kenya for health programs, but “that money is diminished if we aren’t taking account of the fact that the malaria footprint is changing,” the expert later told Devex.

“If you’re not planning for that, you’re going to be caught flat-footed,” he said.

Cadwell cited droughts as another example of a threat to service delivery, and encouraged donors to ask themselves if droughts will make poor people migrate to cities at an even faster rate than now.

Likewise, he urged donors to think about the impact climate could have on their own programs, as well as to work with their counterparts in developing countries.

We also learned that the Urban Institute is currently working on a proposal for a study on efforts to improve service delivery in the context of climate change.

“Just even documenting what plans people do have would be a start,” Cadwell said. “We’re not imagining we’re going to save the world. We’re not climate scientists. But we are public goods governance people.”

Are aid groups already giving their programs a ‘stress test?’ How do you think donors can bolster service delivery in light of threats posed by climate change? Let us know with a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.