Isabel Gomes answers your questions!

Isabel Gomes.jpg

Hello! I work for a children’s charity, World Vision, where I oversee all our global emergency work – that’s responding to disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, famines and even the current coronavirus crisis. We make sure families have enough food to eat, clean water, somewhere safe to sleep at night and can look after their children, especially when life gets tough.

Q) What impacts of extreme weather have you seen in your work? Are elderly people and children generally worst affected? From proactive_agency, Achimota Basic School, Ghana

A) That’s a great question, proactive_agency. Extreme weather disasters like hurricanes, droughts and floods are becoming much more frequent and more dangerous. More people are living in places affected by these disasters than ever before, and sadly – climate change is making the threat much worse. The impact of this on vulnerable people – and you’re correct, some of the worst-affected are indeed older people and children – can be terrible, even deadly.

For example, during a cyclone, homes, schools and crops may be destroyed. A drought, which happens when there is no rainfall for a long time, can mean crops don’t grow, meaning it’s hard for parents to get enough food and water for their children. When children don’t have enough to eat, or their parents can’t afford their school uniforms or books, they can’t get to school. Without enough water, they get sick very quickly. This is why in World Vision we give so much attention to making sure children are looked after before and after extreme weather disasters.

Q) Can governments pool their resources together and prepare for the consequences of extreme weather? From serious_fruit, Sacred Heart School, Ghana

A) Absolutely – that’s exactly what needs to happen, serious_fruit! We must all work together to address the consequences of extreme weather; it’s the only way we’ll manage it. At World Vision, we believe that world leaders have to take immediate action to prepare for what’s to come. We talk and work with governments all over the world, to help them do exactly this.

And of course – it’s not just the future we have to worry about, we’re already seeing the consequences right now. A tropical cyclone hit the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean (near Australia) just a few weeks ago, destroying thousands of people’s homes. And millions of people are in desperate need of help in southern Africa, which has been struggling with a drought for months. Governments all over the world have given money and support to help people, but it’s important they also do so to help prevent disasters occurring.

We know that a better future is possible – but governments have to take this seriously, work together and share their resources to ensure that everyone is protected.

Q) Why do developing countries always seem to suffer the most during extreme weather events? From secure_meteor, Beit Hanoun Prep Girls A School, Occupied Palestinian Territory

A) You’ve hit the nail on the head, there, secure_meteor. Would you like a job with World Vision?! Developing countries absolutely suffer the most during extreme weather events –between 1996 and 2005, the UN found that 90 per cent of disaster-related deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

This is because many people developing countries are often the least able to cope when disasters hit. In places where people don’t have a lot of money, they may live in more crowded areas, in homes and buildings that aren’t built to survive a disaster. They often don’t have any savings to fall back on – so if their house is destroyed, or their business is forced to close, they don’t have spare money to keep them going until everything is back on track.

That’s why one of the many things World Vision does is to help people before disasters hit. We want them to have better access to food and good health, to have homes, schools and other buildings with good foundations that are less likely to fall down, and to have jobs and savings that mean they can rebuild.

Q) In your work, have you seen how people’s animals are affected by extreme weather, and if so, how do you help them? From steady_olive, Hammond Junior School, UK

A) I have seen this, steady_olive. Sadly, no one – human or animal – is immune to the consequences of extreme weather. So for example when a drought comes and there’s not enough food to eat or water to drink, life becomes very difficult for families and their pets.

In lots of the countries where World Vision works, people rely on animals for food and for money – by selling chickens’ eggs at the market, for example. Or I don’t know if you’ve ever tried goats’ milk, but it’s delicious! And many farmers rely on income from selling it.

We really believe it’s important to look after people and the environment – and that include animals. So we help in lots of different ways. We might help a farmer with irrigating his crops – that means making sure they get enough water, so both his family and his animals have enough food to eat. Or we might give a family chicken feed, so they can keep producing eggs to sell.

Q) How can extreme weather affects people’s businesses? And when this happens, what are the best responses? From admirable_rambutan, St Paul's Primary School, Kenya

A) That’s a brilliant question, admirable_rambutan. You’ve hit on something many adults fail to understand; when an extreme weather disaster strikes, there are lots of immediate needs like food, water, and shelter that have to be taken care of quickly. But there are long-term needs that have to be addressed as well, and that includes struggling businesses and people losing their jobs.

If there’s a drought and crops don’t grow, a farmer will find it difficult to make a living and feed his family. Or if a hurricane rips through a town, destroying shops and offices, then shopkeepers won’t be able to sell anything, and people can’t go to work.

That’s why we have to make sure that we address both short- and long-term needs in our response. One way of doing this is to lend small sums of money for equipment and stock so businesses can reopen. We also help communities without access to banks to save money among themselves – they pool their cash, and lend to one another, creating their own local banking system where everyone wins.

It’s crucial that we help business owners and families to stand on their own two feet again; they might just need a helping hand to start with.

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