Climate change and natural disasters

Climate change poses a significant threat to humanity. It is a threat which can only be tackled with immediate global action.   

The global climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and it’s having dramatic effects on our environment.

Rising sea levels caused by shrinking glaciers and melting sea ice are increasing the risk of devastating floods. Shifting weather patterns are threatening food production and making weather-related events more extreme.

Vital social infrastructures are under threat, like water resources, energy, transportation, agriculture and human health, as well as local ecosystems and wildlife.

The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis.  

We see this every time we work with communities who have lost their homes, livelihoods or loved ones to hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding and drought.

JUMP TO: 

Key stats about climate change

How does climate affect natural disasters?

How does climate change affect people?

How do we manage our impact?

How climate change affects natural disasters


Our changing climate is worsening large weather events like droughts, hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

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Recent hurricane disasters


  • 2015: Hurricane Joaquin, Category 4, was the strongest Atlantic hurricane of non-tropical origin recorded in the satellite era.
  • 2016: Hurricane Matthew was the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007.
  • 2017: Hurricanes Irma and Maria were the fourth and third-costliest Atlantic hurricanes ($168.8 billion in damage combined).
  • 2018: Hurricane Michael was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992.
  • 2019: Hurricane Dorian was the most powerful tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas, and it is regarded as the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

Find out more about hurricanes.

Living through extreme disasters


Amy from Barbuda experienced every second of Hurricane Irma’s wrath in 2017. She told us:

‘On the night of the hurricane, I was with my neighbour. It was midnight. We weren’t prepared. It was scary. It was a night I will never forget. Never. Never. The roof kept lifting up and dropping back down. The next thing we knew, it was gone. That was the longest night. All that wind, rain and noise.’

In Malawi, Grace recalls how severe flooding after Cyclone Idai destroyed her home and threatened her family’s lives:

‘When the water came, I was panicking because the water was running fast. We even tried to climb the trees to run away from the water. It was very scary, there were crocodiles in the water.’

Woman standing in her home
‘On the night of the hurricane, I was with my neighbour. It was midnight. We weren’t prepared. It was scary. It was a night I will never forget. Never. Never.’ - Amy

How climate change affects people


Extreme weather events happen more often in countries where many people are living in poverty. And each new disaster makes their situation worse.  

Homes made by hand

We work with people living in places where homes are often made from wood and materials found locally, like in Malawi.

These homes are made by hand, by traditional methods passed down from one generation to the next.

But they are not designed to withstand the increasing severity of tropical storms and hurricanes.

A family standing in front of their makeshift shelter in Malawi

When Cyclone Idai devastated Malawi in March 2019, families saw their homes and livelihoods washed away, sunk into the rising floodwaters. Stephano told us:

“On the day of the flood the rain started at 5pm, but the flood that caused houses to fall started at 11pm. By the middle of the night, all the houses had fallen. Our livestock were getting carried away with the water. The crocodiles were so close to us, attacking the cows.”

Vulnerable locations

We support people living in places that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, who are often not well equipped to withstand the worsening conditions, like the families we’ve supported in the Philippines.

Since 2004, we have responded there 25 times to a range of devastating disasters including storms, cyclones and typhoonsfloods and earthquakes.

Find out more about our work in the Philippines.

Mirta, a lady wearing glasses in Paraguay
“I'm tired of always having to move each time there are floods, but we don't have another option. We simply can't afford to buy a home out of the flood-affected areas.”

But why do people live in places that they know are at risk of hurricanes, floods and even volcanic eruptions?

Often there are social and cultural reasons – it’s where people have always lived. Sometimes the opportunities outweigh the risks. For example, the ground near volcanoes is very fertile for growing crops, enhanced by the volcanic ash.

When it comes to low-lying coastal areas and urban areas at higher risk from hurricanes and flooding, it is often because it is cheaper. People who can’t afford to live in safer areas create homes where they will be more vulnerable to disaster because it’s the only place they can afford.

We recently spoke to communities in Asuncion, Paraguay. These communities have been devastated by severe flooding earlier this year. Mirta, pictured on the left, spoke to us about her living conditions.

Natural resources lost

We work with farming and nomadic communities, like families in Somaliland who can no longer grow crops or feed their cattle and sheep because of the severe drought brought on by many years of poor rainy seasons.

Over the last 3 years the drought has killed almost all (up to 80%) of the region’s livestock. Rural communities in Somaliland rely on livestock for their income and survival, and extreme weather is their biggest threat.

Find out more about our impact in Somaliland here.

“We came here because we were hungry and we didn’t have any food. Since I lost my livestock, the biggest struggle is to get food for my family’.

– Bihi

Somalian man
‘We are very grateful for what we have received. Thank you for this.’ - Bihi
The disappearing Lake Chad
The disappearing waters of Lake Chad shown in 1963, 1973, 1987 and 1997.

We also see how climate change has reduced the availability of natural resources, leaving communities far more vulnerable to extremist groups.

This can contribute to complex conflict situations, like in the Lake Chad Basin which originally reached across NigeriaCameroonNiger and Chad. Historically, people across the Lake Chad Basin region relied on the lake for their livelihoods, living on the plentiful fish and fertile land. But since the 1960s, the lake has shrunk by about 90%, turning the area to desert.

This is due to a mix of climate change, increasing population, overuse and irrigation. In one of the hottest places on earth, it is now almost impossible to make a living from the land or the lake, contributing to the influence of Boko Haram in the region.

Find out more about the Lake Chad Basin Crisis here.

Managing our own impact


We know that by working to support disaster affected communities we also have an impact on the environment.

Our use of air freight and energy contributes to climate change; the waste we produce contributes to landfill, and any single-use plastics involved in our work will stay on the planet for many lifetimes.

If not properly managed our impact could contribute to increasing the vulnerability of people around the world to disaster.

That’s why we are committed to understanding our impact on the environment and finding ways to avoid or reduce these effects.   

This includes working on ways to:

  • Understand and work to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through our use of freight and air travel.​
  • Reduce our waste sent to landfill across all business activities.​
  • Eliminate single-use plastics within our fundraising materials by the end of 2020.​
  • Eliminate non-essential single-use plastics in our core aid items by the end of 2020.​
  • Work towards renewable energy to power our UK sites.​
  • Use only FSC-certified or 100% recycled paper products.​
  • Ensure that all forest products are sustainably and legally sourced.

More about disasters


Natural disasters explained: tsunamis

Tsunamis can destroy lives, homes, crops and roads in the blink of an eye. Learn more about what they are, what causes them and what the effects are.

Natural disasters explained: floods

Floods are among the most common and devastating disasters. Read more about why they happen and their effects.

Natural disasters explained: Hurricanes

Find out everything you need to know about hurricanes and typhoons.