Emergency vehicle

When disasters strike, the Red Cross mobilizes to provide victims with food, water, and medical supplies. But the organization does more than respond to disasters after they occur. As climate change makes heat waves, droughts, floods, and extreme storms more common …

Van Aalst: “What we’re trying to do is anticipate more of those conditions, to actually prepare rather than just support people after they’ve been hit.”

Maarten van Aalst directs the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. He says the Centre’s scientists study where extreme weather is most likely to strike, and how it will affect people locally. Then they use their findings to advise the Red Cross about how to help protect the people who are most vulnerable.

For example, he says that in the past, flooding in Uganda has often caused cholera outbreaks. Now, the Red Cross is working to equip communities with water tanks and chlorine tablets before flooding strikes …

Van Aalst: “So that, before the flood comes, people have access to those items and they can then, after the floods, keep safe drinking water. We can prevent those disease outbreaks.”

The Red Cross cannot change the weather. But by focusing on preparedness, it can help minimize the impacts of extreme weather disasters.

Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Jan O'Brien

Jan O'Brien was assistant editor and website manager at Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. She brought more than three decades of experience in environmental publishing and policy research and more...