We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis, IFAD’s Chief Strategist to tell world leaders in Istanbul

With more than 60 million people across the world reeling from the drought caused by El Niño, Josefina Stubbs from the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has a strong message for leaders gathering at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next week.

“The demand for emergency assistance cannot keep up with the supply,” she says. “We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis. We have to invest in long-term development that helps people cope with shocks so that they can continue to grow enough food for their communities and not require emergency aid.”

Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and natural disasters resulting in an average displacement of 22.5 million people a year – equivalent to 62,000 people every day. This movement of people can lead to local and regional instability. And when people are pushed away from rural areas and farming, it can threaten the food security of entire countries.

“Poor people in developing countries are disproportionately affected by disasters because they do not have the resources to cope with the impacts and bounce back,” says Stubbs, IFAD’s Associate Vice-President and Chief Strategist. “These people are not waiting for hand-outs. They are looking for opportunities to keep earning incomes even in the face of disasters. Our focus should be on creating these opportunities.”

The current El Niño drought has had a catastrophic effect on crops around the world causing almost 32 million people in southern Africa alone to go hungry. This number is expected to rise to 49 million by the end of the year. The UN estimates that at least US$3.6 billion is required to meet emergency needs resulting from this drought. Less than half of this has been provided.

Ethiopia is the worst hit in Africa, with 75 per cent of its harvests lost and emergency food assistance required for at least ten million people. IFAD has been working with small-scale farmers in the country for more than a decade to make them more resilient to the impacts of drought. With investments in irrigation, water-harvesting techniques and early warning systems, and training in sustainable water usage, none of these communities have required any food aid during the current drought.

“At IFAD we have seen that building resilience to disasters does work and saves communities from suffering,” says Stubbs. “But there has to be a global commitment to invest in long-term development.”

The changing climate and the increasing scarcity of natural resources are also impacting the already precarious situation of the estimated 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced by conflict. Long-term investments are urgently needed to stimulate the economies of the rural areas of host countries where the majority of refugees live.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit takes place on 23 and 24 May and originates from a growing concern about the protracted nature of recent humanitarian crises and the limited capacity of the global community to respond to them. World leaders and humanitarian and development agencies will gather to make commitments to help countries better prepare for and respond to crises.