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Red Cross Says Climate Change One of Greatest Threats Facing Humanity

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity. The Swiss-based humanitarian agency is appealing for nearly $300 million to help people affected by climate change-related disasters and other global problems over the next two years. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

The Red Cross Federation says climate change is no longer an abstract issue, it is an undeniable reality, and it is have a catastrophic affect on communities around the world.

Red Cross Secretary-General, Markku Niskala, says climate change is making people more vulnerable. He warns climate change is having a worrisome impact on water supplies, on food production and even on health crises.

He says changing weather patterns and melting glaciers already are threatening precious water resources. He notes changes in temperature and rainfall are expected to seriously damage agriculture in future years. And, increased temperatures, he says, are resulting in the appearance of diseases like dengue and malaria in new areas.

"There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today," Niskala said. "It is fundamentally altering the entire humanitarian agenda and very nature of vulnerability. It is clear then that response alone is no longer enough. The impact of climate change on disasters, on health crises, on vulnerability in general emphasizes the importance of making communities stronger and more resilient in the first place."

Niskala says there is nothing anyone can do to prevent extreme weather events. But, there is much that can be done to reduce their impacts and prevent them from turning into catastrophic events.

Esther Okwanga is Red Cross Deputy Head of the southern Africa region. She says her organization is very effective in helping communities cope with disasters. This is because the Red Cross is composed of thousands of volunteers who come from the local communities where disasters strike.

"Some community-based interventions do not require a lot of material and financial resources," she said. "Markku mentioned the HIV program. It takes nothing for a family member to walk next door and to assist a neighbor who is afflicted and bed-ridden to have a wash and to make sure that they have taken their medicine. That is what volunteering at the grassroots level is about."

The Red Cross says Africa is particularly vulnerable to impacts from climate change as well as HIV/AIDS and a host of other problems. That is why it says more than 40 percent of its appeal will go for assistance to Africa.