Climate change will be one of the most persistent challenges for humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross.
December 16, 2019 – Research shows the climate is changing, and the American Red Cross is witnessing first-hand the adverse impacts of more extreme weather events. As we respond to disasters, we see the heartbreak of families and communities dealing with the new realities of more intense storms, heavier rainfall, higher temperatures, stronger hurricanes and historic wildfires. Helping people prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters has been at the heart of the American Red Cross mission since our founding 138 years ago, and the threat of climate change today requires us to adapt and change to meet this challenge.
In recent years, Red Cross workers and volunteers have responded to a series of record-breaking disasters:
- 2017 was marked with four back-to-back extremely intense hurricanes, unprecedented rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the deadliest week of wildfires in California history. The American Red Cross delivered more food, relief items and shelter stays in 2017 than in the previous four years combined.
- 2018 brought six major hurricanes impacting the United States in just three months and another year of the most destructive wildfires in California history, causing millions to turn to the Red Cross for help.
- In spring 2019, the Red Cross helped thousands who were forced to flee when heavy rainfall led to rising rivers in the Midwest, followed by 500 tornadoes that swept through the U.S. in just 30 days.
- In summer 2019, Hurricane Dorian intensified rapidly into the most powerful tropical cyclone to hit the Bahamas on record with sustained winds of up to 185 mph and a devastating storm surge sweeping away entire communities. The American Red Cross and the global Red Cross Red Crescent network have mounted a major emergency relief and recovery effort to help survivors.
- Economic losses from disasters are also growing. Although not completely attributable to climate change, the past five years have each had 10 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S.—the longest streak since record-keeping began in 1980, according to NOAA.
As this trend continues, the human toll will increase and the poorest and most vulnerable—who are disproportionately impacted by disasters—will suffer the most. Climate change will be one of the most persistent challenges for humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross as we face increasing demand for our services.
We are already acting. Together with our partners, we are changing how we plan for severe weather events, how we allocate and develop response material and human resources, and how we identify and prioritize services to those most vulnerable. This includes investments in technology that enable us to better prepare in advance, visualize damage and destruction in real time, and develop targeted response plans to help people and communities faster. We are also working to raise more funds, recruit more volunteers and build more partnerships, so we have more financial and human resources to deal with growing needs.
We are identifying and implementing long-term recovery strategies that combine disaster risk and vulnerability reduction, environmental sustainability, and community survivability—for example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the Red Cross funded the installation of solar micro-grid power systems in schools to help ensure they could serve as emergency shelters with electricity to power lights, kitchens, water pumps and water heaters. We are also expanding support for climate-smart practices throughout our global Red Cross network.
Addressing the threat of climate change will require the collective efforts of all of us to build resiliency in our communities and help alleviate human suffering. The American Red Cross, through its strong network of volunteers, donors and partners, will do its part to ensure we can meet this challenge and continue to provide help and hope to those in need.
 Source: ncdc.noaa.gov/billions