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The Right to Survive:the humanitarian challenge for the twenty-first century

by Luna Allison | May 11, 2010

Any such projection is not an exact science, but it is clear that substantially more people may be affected by disasters in the very near, not just distant, future, as climate change and environmental mismanagement create a proliferation of droughts, landslides, floods and other local disasters. And more people will be vulnerable to disasters because of their poverty and location.

Some of these environmental changes will also increase the threat of new conflicts, which will mean more people displaced, and the need for more humanitarian aid. One recent report estimated that 46 countries will face a high risk of violent conflict’ when climate change exacerbates traditional security threats.

Already, there is evidence that the number of conflicts is again on the rise, while the threat of long-running conflictscreating vast new humanitarian demands was painfully shown by the upsurge of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008.

In short, by 2015, an unprecedented level of need for humanitarian assistance could overwhelm the world’s current humanitarian capacity. Already, many governments fail to cope with threats like storms, floods and earthquakes. They fail to act quickly or effectively enough in response to these events, or to take preventative action to reduce unnecessary deaths and suffering. Indeed, the very actions of some governments and their national elites place marginalised people at risk from disasters by discriminating against them, like those forced to live in flimsy slum housing so easily destroyed by floods and landslips.

At the same time, international humanitarian assistance is often too slow or inappropriate, and the UN-led reforms since 2005 to improve it have only begun to make a difference.

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