Francesco Rocca, president of IFRC. Photo by: REUTERS / Carlos Garcia Rawlins

UNITED NATIONS — Climate change is reshaping the nature of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' work, but efforts to boost resilience are not catching up as quickly as needed, according to IFRC President Francesco Rocca.

Activism. UHC. Climate. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 74th U.N. General Assembly.

“It is not an opinion, it is a fact. It is about something that you see people are experiencing, whether in the Caribbean region or the Pacific. It’s the frequency, the magnitude, and the violence of these phenomena,” Rocca told Devex. “But it is not just in these areas ... Now it is a global issue.”

“The magnitude of climate-related disasters on communities has become another aspect we have to work on, to raise more awareness, to build more resilience,” Rocca said.

Rocca spoke with Devex on the sidelines of the high-level Climate Action Summit on Monday at U.N. Headquarters. Climate announcements included a new private sector coalition for climate resilient investment and a program by the U.N. Development Programme, Insurance Development Forum, Germany, and the U.K. that will offer as much as $5 billion in insurance capacity to 20 at-risk countries.

Inaction on climate change could raise the costs of humanitarian aid response by $20 billion annually by 2030, according to an IFRC report published on Friday.

“We need funding and it is dangerous now to enter into competition for disaster risk reduction or mitigation or adaptation or insurance. What we are seeing today is if you take any of those areas, we are not anywhere near the scale of magnitude we need to have,” IFRC Secretary-General Elhadj As Sy said during a media briefing at the U.N. on Monday afternoon.

“I can advocate for adaptation, but we also need mitigation, so it would not be fair or honest to look at it from one side. None of us alone will be able to do it,” he continued.

Rocca reflected on his recent trip to the Bahamas. While most people in need have received humanitarian assistance following Hurricane Dorian, some people still lack access to clean water, nearly one month later. The hurricane, called “Category Hell” by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, killed more than 50 people, and more than 1,300 are still missing.

More community engagement is needed at the country level to help strengthen countries’ resiliency programs, and to shape disaster response work, Rocca explained. In some cases, locating vulnerable people who do not wish to leave their homes post-disaster may be a better model than traditional shelters.

“There are a few people that decided to stay in the Bahamas. They do not want to leave and this is not the first time we have experienced this. If you look in their eyes, and I spent some time talking to those living in shelters, they are lost. They do not know what to do,” Rocca said.

Rocca described the scene in remote parts of the country as worse than some conflict zones he has seen. It’s likely another hurricane will again strike the Bahamas or another at-risk island or coastal region in the next few years, according to Rocca.

“I met with the president of the Bahamas and I told him, ‘Let’s create a model. What can we do? It is something that can happen again, so it is up to us to do something different,” Rocca said. “This is also something the community is demanding and expecting.”

Rocca said he feels “more hopeful” about the impact of the Climate Action Summit than he has leading up to previous global meetings on climate change. But he is still waiting to see what happens in the weeks and months to come.

“On a formal side, governments seem to understand and to be engaged. Let’s see what is happening tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. It is not about words but about facts,” Rocca said.

Activism. UHC. Climate. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 74th U.N. General Assembly.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.