The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Climate-sensitive aid is good aid

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Pounding millet in the village of Kalbiron, near Tambacounda, eastern Senegal. Oxfam's Rural Resilience Initiative offers farmers in Senegal the opportunity to get weather insurance, and pay the premiums by working on community projects designed to reduce climate-related risks like soil degradation in flash flooding in the rainy season.

Suggesting that aid to support climate change adaptation can be separated from other poverty-fighting aid is a disservice to the goals of both.

Last month, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece entitled “Trump’s climate plan might not be so bad after all.” The last few paragraphs argued that world would be better off spending its aid dollars making sure everyone has access to clean water, eliminating diseases like malaria, and making sure people are getting sufficient food to eat, instead of on climate. The author laments that 25 percent of all aid provided by OECD member states is climate-related aid.

Clearly, the person that wrote that article hasn’t spent the last couple years of his life monitoring climate-related aid (like I have); because climate-related aid is doing the exact things he argues for – tackling malnutrition and improving access to clean water and sanitation – it’s just doing so in a way that is more responsible and sustainable. By thinking through how changes to the climate will affect water availability to make sure wells don’t dry up after five years, or increasing support to tackle malaria, because climate change is creating warmer and wetter places for mosquitoes to breed, aid is responding to the challenges facing communities on the frontlines. That’s just good aid, not an immoral distraction from tackling extreme poverty.

Climate change is making the fight against poverty harder. Just over the last 18 months ‘Super El Nino’ combined with the effects of climate change has put 60 million people at risk of hunger. That’s why organizations like Oxfam have joined the fight against climate change.

Climate-related aid helps communities adapt to climate change so they can grow and buy enough food in a warming world. Climate-related aid builds early warning systems to help communities and governments respond when crisis strikes, because acting early in a drought costs 40 percent less than acting after its worst effects have already set in. Climate-related aid is a responsible use of our tax dollars, because it means the programs have been designed with consideration for how changes in weather, climate and the environment will affect people so that the assistance provided helps them survive and get back on their feet after the next flood, drought or storm.

Instead of lamenting that a quarter of aid is climate-related, we should actually be lamenting that the other three quarters isn’t.

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