Disaster and Displacement: The Human Face of Climate Change


On February 11, I will join my CARE colleague, Cynthia Awuor, and demographers Alex de Sherbinin and Susana Adamo to give a briefing on Capitol Hill about the human face of climate change. I am looking forward to the opportunity to help members of Congress and their staff better understand not only the challenge we face, but also how policymakers can address this challenge and how humanitarian organizations are already adapting the way we do business in light of the realities of climate change.

Until recently, climate change science has been, for the most part,
defined by top-down, model- and climate-scenario based impact
assessments, which attempt to project the expected level of impact of
unmitigated climate change on human and ecological systems using
biophysical indicators, such as water stress, agricultural output, and
infectious disease distribution. Very few studies to date have looked
at biophysical risk together with social, economic, and political

The most climate change insecure populations will be those with the highest biophysical risks and the
greatest social, economic, and political vulnerability. Take Zimbabwe
for example. The country is prone to climate-related hazards, such as
droughts and cyclones. It will likely experience water scarcity and a
decline in agricultural production as a result of climate change. On
top of these biophysical risks, however, Zimbabwe is also currently
dealing with political and financial crises as well as an HIV/AIDS
crisis. The HIV/AIDS crisis alone has left many women
widowed and struggling to survive. And because they are women, they do
not by law have access to land tenure, they have been excluded from
disaster risk reduction efforts, and they have not benefited from
improved agricultural technologies and water resource management
techniques. Their livelihoods will become even more insecure in the
face of climate change.

At the briefing, which is being co-sponsored by the Population
Resource Center, I will present a report CARE and UNOCHA released last
year on the humanitarian implications of climate change. The report is
exciting because it does something new. It lays existing data about
social, economic and political vulnerability on top of climate
projection data about specific hazards associated with climate change –
floods, cyclones and drought. When we look at social,
economic and political vulnerability together with climate projection
data, we can begin to more carefully identify and pinpoint hotspots of
high humanitarian risk under changing climate conditions. And this
helps us target our resources more effectively – to those who need it

In the end, though, what matters most is not the climate models,
projections and reports. What really matters is how people in the
world”s poorest communities, who already struggle to survive without
having to deal with the harsh realities of climate change, are affected
by and facing this new challenge – in concrete and real life terms. My
CARE colleague, Cynthia, a native of Kenya, will help put a human face
on climate change by talking about what she is seeing and hearing, on
the ground, about the impact of climate change on people living in
extreme poverty.

Together we hope to expand members” and staff”s view of the impact
of climate change to include its dire consequences on the world”s most
vulnerable people. We look forward to a fruitful
discussion about how we can work together – as policymakers, NGOs, and
local communities – to face and overcome the humanitarian challenge of
climate change.

For Members of Congress and staff who want to learn more about the
specific humanitarian impacts of climate change in these regions – and
about how CARE is using the findings from this report to change the way
we plan and do our business – please join us on February 11.

The CARE/UNOCHA report on the humanitarian implications of climate
change is also available on our CARE climate change website: To learn more about CARE and the work we do
more broadly around the world, visit