Wealthy nations must pay their fair share in climate adaptation

If rich countries do not drastically improve their record on climate finance commitments, communities in Malawi and elsewhere will continue to pay the price, Twapashagha Twea writes.

Malawi is no stranger to climate shocks, with four major cyclones hitting the country in only the last five years. 


Droughts and floods are also increasing in frequency and severity, with serious consequences for the population that largely depends on agriculture. It’s a similar story around the world, with floods, storms and wildfires seemingly never out of the headlines.

Meanwhile, conversations about how much climate finance should be paid to developing countries, and who specifically should pay it, rumble on. 

When negotiations are in the spotlight, as they will be later this year at COP28, it’s easy to lose track of the impact that chronic underfunding is having in countries that are not only among the least prepared for climate-related disasters, but also are the least responsible for the crisis.

Cyclone Freddy: The case for adaptation

In March of this year, Cyclone Freddy brought six months’ worth of rainfall to Malawi in just six days, resulting in devastating floods and mudslides. 

Over 1,000 people were reported dead or missing, with a further 500,000 displaced. Close to 205,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed, along with homes, schools, markets and hospitals.

What made Freddy particularly devastating was the fact that the country is yet to address the damages caused by two previous cyclones: Ana in February 2022, and Gombe the following month. 

Plus, let’s not forget the impact that Cyclone Idai had on Malawi — along with Zimbabwe and Mozambique — in 2019.

Inadequate investment for preparedness and risk reduction, as well as shortfalls in recovery actions, have resulted in an increase in loss and damage after each disaster. 

Substantial support from the international community is urgently needed if the impact is to be minimised when the next extreme weather event inevitably occurs. 

Simply put, the example of Malawi makes the case for properly-funded climate adaptation initiatives all too clear.

Prioritise adaptation for a more resilient future

At COP26 in 2021, the Glasgow Climate Pact called on developed countries to at least double their adaptation finance provision from 2019 levels by 2025. 


While adaptation finance had been increasing even before the agreement was made, the data suggests that the target of $40 billion per year is highly unlikely to be met.

Some countries are meeting their “fair share” of the goal — based on the sizes of their economies and populations, as well as their track record on carbon emissions — yet others are way off the pace. 

At the time of signing the pact, Australia, Canada, Spain, the UK and the US were all contributing less than two-thirds of what they should.

If the adaptation finance target is indeed missed, it will be all too familiar a story. At COP15 in 2009, the same countries agreed collectively to be paying at least $100 billion (€93bn) in climate finance each year by 2020. 

Despite re-confirming the arrangement in 2015, and again in 2018, the target has been missed year after year. While it may finally be reached in 2023, that’s three years late.


Climate finance as a whole remains woefully underfunded

The situation would look even worse had eight countries not provided more — and in some cases, substantially more — than their fair share. Meanwhile many of the world’s largest economies are among the worst performers. 

The US, for example, should have contributed $43.5bn (€40.5bn) in 2021, but only provided $9.27bn (€8.6bn) — barely a fifth of its fair share. 

Once you factor in the other fourteen countries coming up short, some of which owe billions more than they currently contribute, it paints a grim picture.

“In 2021, Malawi received only $130 million (€120.8m) in climate finance, of which $87m (€80.8m) was for adaptation — certainly not enough to meet the needs,” says Tony Kamninga, a climate finance data expert for ODI, and a Malawian. 

As he pointed out, “Despite being responsible for less than 0.5% of global carbon emissions, Malawi is paying a heavy price for the failure of developed countries to mitigate the climate crisis.” 


Restoring trust is vital

Another consequence of chronic underfunding is the fuelling of political tensions that undermine trust in international cooperation efforts. 

It does the COP process no favours to see the same group of wealthy nations consistently failing to honour the commitments that they themselves made – especially as they are most responsible for the climate crisis in which Malawi, and similarly climate-vulnerable countries, find themselves.

Issues of transparency and accountability must be addressed, and new and additional finance confirmed to avoid double-counting and the inflation of reported numbers. 

Better data, combined with more consistent mechanisms for pledging and reporting, will help to bolster faith in the process.

Furthermore, countries whose commitments are heavily skewed towards the provision of loans rather than grants must change course, and prevent an additional (and wholly unacceptable) debt burden from falling on developing countries.

Time to unlock the power of adaptation

In our work with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance in Malawi, we’ve seen how timely adaptation measures such as early warning systems and natural resource management can significantly reduce the impact on communities at risk of floods and other weather-related hazards.

However, as long as the current huge shortfall in adaptation finance persists, many communities around the world will remain exposed. 

Both the quantity and quality of climate finance must be improved to help vulnerable nations and communities adapt to the climate emergency, before it’s too late.

Twapashagha Twea is a Policy and Advocacy Manager for Concern Worldwide, based in Malawi.

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Thousands feared dead in flood-ravaged eastern Libya

Entire communities were swept out to sea in the North African country, with the city of Derna hit hardest.

A local health official in eastern Libya says the flood death toll in the city of Derna has risen to more than 5,100.


Ossama Ali, a spokesman for the Ambulance and Emergency Centre in eastern Libya, said the toll for the entire region is at least 5,202.

Ali told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday that more than 7,000 people were injured in Derna and most of them received treatment at field hospitals that authorities and aid agencies set up there.

He says the number of deaths is likely to increase in the coastal city since search and rescue teams are still collecting bodies from the streets, buildings and the sea.

The startling death and devastation wreaked by Mediterranean storm Daniel pointed to the storm’s intensity, but also the vulnerability of a nation torn apart by chaos for more than a decade. The country is divided by rival governments, one in the east, the other in the west, and the result has been neglect of infrastructure in many areas.

Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city of some 89,000.

Footage showed dozens of bodies covered by blankets in the yard of one hospital. Another image showed a mass grave piled with bodies. More than 1,500 corpses were collected, and half of them had been buried as of Tuesday evening, the health minister for eastern Libya said.

10,000 still missing

But the toll is likely to be higher, said Tamer Ramadan, Libya envoy for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He told a U.N. briefing in Geneva via videoconference from Tunisia that at least 10,000 people were still missing. He said later Tuesday that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

The situation in Libya is “as devastating as the situation in Morocco,” Ramadan said, referring to the deadly earthquake that hit near the city of Marrakesh on Friday night.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres conveyed his solidarity with the Libyan people and said the United Nations “is working with local, national and international partners to get urgently needed humanitarian assistance to those in affected areas,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The destruction came to Derna and other parts of eastern Libya on Sunday night. As the storm pounded the coast, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions and realised that dams outside the city had collapsed. Flash floods were unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.


The wall of water “erased everything in its way,” said one resident, Ahmed Abdalla.

Videos posted online by residents showed large swaths of mud and wreckage where the raging waters had swept away neighbourhoods on both banks of the river. Multi-story apartment buildings that once were well back from the river had facades ripped away and concrete floors collapsed. Cars lifted by the flood were left dumped on top of each other.

Libya’s National Meteorological Center said Tuesday it issued early warnings for Storm Daniel, an “extreme weather event,” 72 hours before its occurrence, and notified all governmental authorities by e-mails and through media … “urging them to take preventive measures.” It said that Bayda recorded a record 414.1 millimetres (16.3 inches) of rain from Sunday to Monday.

On Tuesday, local emergency responders, including troops, government workers, volunteers and residents dug through rubble looking for the dead. They also used inflatable boats to retrieve bodies from the water.

Many bodies were believed trapped under rubble or had been washed out into the Mediterranean Sea, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel.


“We were stunned by the amount of destruction … the tragedy is very significant, and beyond the capacity of Derna and the government,” Abduljaleel told The Associated Press on the phone from Derna.

Red Crescent teams from other parts of Libya also arrived in Derna on Tuesday morning but extra excavators and other equipment had yet to get there.

Flooding often happens in Libya during the rainy season, but rarely with this much destruction. A key question was how the rains were able to burst through two dams outside Derna – whether because of poor maintenance or sheer volume of rain.

440 milimetres of rain

Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist and meteorologist at Leipzig University, said in a statement that Daniel dumped 440 millimetres (15.7 inches) of rain on eastern Libya in a short time.

“The infrastructure could probably not cope, leading to the collapse of the dam,” he said, adding that human-induced rises in water surface temperatures likely added to the storm’s intensity.


Local authorities have neglected Derna for years. “Even the maintenance aspect was simply absent. Everything kept being delayed,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specialising in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.

Factionalism also comes into play. Derna was for several years controlled by Islamic militant groups. Military commander Khalifa Hifter, the strongman of the east Libya government, captured the city in 2019 only after months of tough urban fighting.

The eastern government has been suspicious of the city ever since and has sought to sideline its residents from any decision-making, said Harchaoui. “This mistrust might prove calamitous during the upcoming post-disaster period,” he said.

Hifter’s eastern government based in the city of Benghazi is locked in a bitter rivalry with the western government in the capital of Tripoli. Each is backed by powerful militias and by foreign powers. Hifter is also backed by Egypt, Russia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, while the west Libya administration is backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Still, the initial reaction to the disaster brought some crossing of the divide.

The Tripoli-based government of western Libya sent a plane with 14 tons of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi. It also said it had allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns. Aeroplanes arrived Tuesday in Benghazi carrying humanitarian aid and rescue teams from Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt’s military chief of staff met with Hifter to coordinate aid. Germany, France and Italy said they also were sending rescue personnel and aid.

It was not clear how quickly the aid could be moved to Derna, 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Benghazi, given conditions on the ground. Ahmed Amdourd, a Derna municipal official, called for a sea corridor to deliver aid and equipment.

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