Coronavirus compounds climate disasters but shows action can work: Red Cross

General view of a flooded area following heavy monsoon rains at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on 27 July 2021,
Reuters file photo

The coronavirus has made it harder for authorities to respond to disasters caused by extreme weather fuelled by climate change, with more severe storms, floods and heatwaves affecting nearly 140 million people around the world, an aid organisation said.

Almost half of those people live in the Asia-Pacific region, the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a report published this week.

"Recovery from disasters is so much harder when livelihoods have been hit hard by Covid-19 and the measures taken to contain it," said Maarten Van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and author of the report.

An example of the additional burden Covid-19 has put on those responding to disasters was the need for social distancing during evacuations caused by storms, the group said in the report.

As super cyclone Amphan barrelled down on Bangladesh in May last year, authorities scrambled to open 14,000 evacuation centres - three times the normal number - to ensure physical distancing for the 2.4 million evacuees, the Red Cross federation said.

When Honduras was hit by two back-to-back hurricanes in November preventing the spread of coronavirus became harder as water supplies were knocked out and disrupted basic hygiene measures like hand-washing, it said.

"The effects without Covid-19 would have been less severe," Van Aalst said, referring to the impact of disasters made worse by climate change.

But the response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown that concerted action can be taken around the world in the face of danger, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said in a statement.

"The massive spending on Covid-19 recovery proves that governments can act fast and drastically in the face of global threats," Rocca said.

"It is time to turn words into action and devote the same energy to the climate crisis."