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Climate Change Task Force: Early Warning Key to Adaptation

A high level task force aimed at helping poor, vulnerable countries adapt to climate change has kicked off in Geneva. The 14-member task force, which was set up during the September 2009 World Climate Conference, says information is power and can help countries better overcome climate change related hazards.

Scientists report extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity. They say hundreds of millions of people are at risk of losing their lives and livelihoods from natural disasters. They say these dangers will rise as climate change becomes more pronounced.

But, they note advances in science and technology, advances in long-range seasonal forecasting can blunt these dangers and allow communities to prepare and adapt to changing weather patterns.

Statistics presented at the meeting here in Geneva show that fewer people now are dying from natural climate-caused disasters than before. This is because of better disaster preparedness and prevention.

Former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator and Co-Chair of the task force, Jan Egeland says these gains are mainly occurring in rich countries.

"However, tens of millions of livelihoods are lost because of the information not reaching those who need it most," he said. "I remember if I may from my time as Emergency Relief Coordinator how heartbreaking it was to be able to know that nomadic people in the Sahel were going to see their herds die. But, they did not know. We knew because we had access to information they did not," said Egeland.

If the nomads had had this information, Egeland says they would have been able to sell their cattle beforehand. And, this would have given them the means to restock when the crisis was over.

He says it is crucial to provide people in poor countries with the scientific know-how and information they need to help their communities to adapt to climate change.

He says the task force will be working on how to provide small island States, African countries and other vulnerable communities with the information they need to help them survive future disasters.

"Our report should come with a number of recommendations, which are the gaps, where do we need to invest, what kind of information and observations do we need that we do not have. And, how can this be tailor made so that there will be the best possible predictions for those who need it the most," he said.

Egeland says science has made great progress. He says there is no reason why people should be dying and losing their livelihoods on the scale that they are worldwide.

He says it is unfair that people in rich countries have more information than people in poor countries to ward off disasters. He says the so-called Haitis of the world must be in a better position to respond to the hazards they face.

The task force plans to publish its recommendations for adapting to climate change early next year.