Until recently, disaster scholars have been scarcely engaged in climate change debates. Absent from disaster management discussion, scientific assessments on climate change have mainly involved scientists and experts in environment and energy posing key questions including whether or not climate change is systematic or accidental? And what role can be attributed to emissions of greenhouse gases caused by humans? Which models can tell us about future developments? And how much reduction in emissions is necessary to mitigate the risks of climate change? Further, these scenarios are typically taken in the context of 50–100 year time scales and for large areas such as “Europe” or “North America.” These projections about globally significant changes are difficult to comprehend and not easy for people translate into real life (1). More importantly, it has become more evident that climate change will not express itself primarily through slow shifts in conditions over a long period of time, but instead in more imminent climate related disasters. The need for action has become more necessary than ever as an increasing human population puts more and more people and their assets in the path of these disasters, raising the economic risk of such events (2).
Maarten van Aalst (3) discusses mounting evidence that it is more imminent events such as floods, droughts and heat waves that society must quickly prepare for. Already in the past ten years, weather-related natural hazards have been the cause of 90% of natural disasters and 60% of related deaths and have been responsible for 98% of the impacts on disaster-affected populations, the majority in developing countries (4). The World Meteorological Organization reported (5) that the year 2005 broke dozens of weather records all over the world, from drought in Brazil, to cold spells in Pakistan and strong hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, except for 1996, all of the past 10 years rank among the 10 hottest years since 1850 (1, 5).
The point is, extreme weather conditions result in disasters that are affecting millions of people globally. The attention of public health professionals and policy¬ makers is now turning to questions regarding how people and whole societies can prepare for and increase their preparedness in these disasters and adapt to the risks posed by climate change (1). Climate change was acknowledged as an underlying threat in relation to disasters in the “Hyogo Frame¬work for Action 2005–15,” the outcome strategy of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (6), held in Kobe, Japan in January 2005. Policy attention regarding climate-related disasters has also been enhanced in processes pertaining to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals.
The fairly recent realization that these disasters are imminent has forced the synergies between the science and policy communities concerned with adaptation to climate change and disaster reduction. If this problem is...