May 22, 2014

Commentary - Protecting Children in Crisis: When Climate Disasters Strike

By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 22.

On a long plane ride home from the Philippines, I thought of the dozens of emergency sites I’d visited on this trip and the many courageous women I had met.  Mothers still living in evacuation shelters in Tacloban more than six months after Typhoon Haiyan affected 10 million families, destroying homes, food markets, health systems, and schools.

This epic storm—the worst ever to hit the Philippines—is just one of the 119 humanitarian emergencies Save the Children responded to in 48 countries in 2013. The majority of these were weather-related.  Meanwhile, some disasters like the slow onset hunger crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, while no longer in the news headlines, are still challenging the lives of tens of millions, many of them women and children.

So, the topic of this year’s Chicago Council Symposium, addressing the impact of climate change on food and nutrition security, could not be more relevant or timely for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the Council on ways we can support the mothers who are facing these tremendous challenges.

Disasters can strike any place, any time—and they undoubtedly will. But, as Save the Children uncovered in its 15th annual State of the World’s Mothers Report, the devastation they leave in their wake impacts some more than others. Women and children are at the greatest risk and are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men.

To protect vulnerable lives and livelihoods from the devastating effects of extreme weather, governments, donors, and aid organizations need to manage the risks, not just the crisis.

To address food and nutrition security in the face of climate change—an area that has tremendous cross-cutting implications for development—here are four key areas in which we need to concentrate.


  1. The next set of Post-2015 global development goals must adequately address both food and nutrition security as well as the underlying causes of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing vulnerability to climate-related crises. (See Save the Children's recommendations on Post-2015).
  2. In all our activities we need to focus on women and children. We know that when women have agency over family income, the health and nutrition of children improve. We further know that countries that have focused on female education have suffered far fewer losses from droughts and floods than countries with lower levels of girls’ education.
  3. We must minimize people’s vulnerability to the damaging effects of climate-related crises and build their longer-term resilience through policies and programs that focus on health, protection, education, and food security and livelihoods. This means supporting the implementation of social protection policies and programs that meet the needs of women and children and boost their ability to secure a nutritious diet during crisis. It also includes investing more in climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, community-based preparedness and early warning systems, Depending on the context, these interventions should include engagement of women from the start but otherwise can look as different as the children they serve—from support for a community resource fund that can be managed by mother leaders for things like food banking, to reforms to land titles, to the prepositioning of village food stocks to help ensure local needs are met when a crisis hits.
  4. International aid for humanitarian response and development needs to be more flexible, and put the needs of women and children at the center. This includes building flexibility and contingency planning into multi-year development programs so they can be modified when needed to address pending crises. It also means allocating emergency aid to respond to the need for pre-emptive or early action before a crisis occurs.

These are some first steps to ensuring that every child can not only survive, but thrive even in the face of more severe climate-related crises.

I’m pleased to write that the U.S. government is making progress in the area of flexible aid through USAID’s Strategy on Resilience—which is taking a whole of government approach in crisis-prone areas like the Horn of Africa. This administration has also been proactively working with Congress to modernize U.S. international food assistance and make it more flexible and efficient, which results in reaching more children with the same level of investments. Thankfully these common sense, practical approaches have very strong bipartisan support in Congress, yet they are still coming under attack by special interests who are finding a sympathetic audience on Capitol Hill.

Most of all, the President’s food security initiative, Feed the Future, is poised to become a breakthrough development model with the potential to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. The 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report shows that it is raising the bar on tackling hunger and malnutrition, focusing particularly on the critical 1,000 day period from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, and positioning nutrition as the bridge between agriculture and health.

The end goal of this work is just what every woman hopes for her children—that they have the chance to grow strong and reach their full potential.  In my mind, there is no better or more important investment we can make.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

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One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

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