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Checking the weather saves lives and money

With all of the weather-related disasters reaching the headlines recently, you can safely assume the Red Cross knows the value of using forecasts to prepare for and respond to disasters. But would you guess that we use climate information to save money in addition to lives?

Today, the American Red Cross is helping to launch a new report with a variety of partners that shows the opportunities and importance for humanitarian agencies and governments to learn from our experiences.

Weather-related disasters, from the massive floods in Pakistan, Australia and Colombia, to the devastating drought in Niger, have claimed thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damages in the last year. At the Red Cross, we are placing greater emphasis on trying to prevent and minimize the impact of these disasters by making earlier and better informed decisions ahead of time. Climate information is often one of our best tools to accomplish this.

In 2008, the Red Cross issued its first-ever international emergency appeal based on a seasonal climate forecast. We used weather predictions to develop contingency plans, preposition stocks and train volunteers to respond to floods in West Africa. When heavy rains caused flooding in Togo, Senegal, Ghana and the Gambia, the national Red Cross societies in those countries were ready and able to distribute emergency supplies within 48 hours. The previous year, before climate information had been leveraged, responding to floods took 40 days and cost three times as much per beneficiary.

Very few of us are scientists, but we partner with the people and groups that have this type of expertise, including the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) which staffs a helpdesk for Red Cross Red Crescent staff around the world. We encourage you to read the report and learn more about this partnership and our accomplishments together. Perhaps it will inspire you to form your own partnership with the Red Cross to help prepare for disasters down the street, across the country and around the world.

If you find yourself checking the weather forecasts more than your friends or explaining terms like “El Nino” to your neighbors, you could be a great asset as a Red Cross volunteer. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter to learn how you can apply this hobby to a life-changing mission.

And if math and science weren’t your best subjects in school, we encourage you to get a group of your friends together to play one of these simple games that the Red Cross and its partners have developed help humanitarian workers better understand how to use complex climate information for disaster management.