U.S. development assistance helps save lives, reduce poverty, and strengthen democratic governance; it also helps societies emerge from humanitarian crises.40,41 Given their structures and levels of development, the economies and societies of developing countries are generally at greater relative risk from the impacts of climate variability, change, and extremes than are those of developed countries.1 In addition to causing suffering in developing countries, these impacts threaten to undermine U.S. investments in development and may necessitate additional humanitarian assistance (and possibly military assistance or intervention; see Key Message 3) in response to more frequent and severe natural disasters (such as flooding).
U.S. international development assistance programs, implemented either directly by U.S. government agencies (such as the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] and the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC]) or indirectly through multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank and United Nations agencies), invest in critical sectors such as agriculture, water and sanitation, health, and infrastructure. These sectors, and the U.S. investments in them, are sensitive to natural variations in climate and extremes and are vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change.1,34,42
The U.S. government systematically identifies climate risks and seeks to reduce the vulnerability of its international development investments. For example, the MCC amended its Environmental Guidelines in June 2012 to formally adopt the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability, which includes provisions on climate risk management.43,44 In addition, USAID has its own climate risk management guidelines.45 For more than a decade, the U.S. government has also funded adaptation programs that seek to reduce vulnerability to climate impacts in these critical sectors.
Developing countries are often highly vulnerable to climate extremes, which can set back development and increase the need for disaster response and recovery assistance. For example, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and Nicaragua, killing thousands of people and causing widespread damage to property and infrastructure.46 USAID and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) jointly responded with an immediate relief effort. USAID also reoriented many of its programs to focus on longer-term recovery.47 Climate change is likely to increase the demand for U.S. humanitarian assistance of this kind, given the expected increase in the severity of extreme events like tropical cyclones and droughts.1,48,49
Many developing countries depend heavily on agriculture as a major source of jobs and a large percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP). Drought can have impacts on food production and security at multiple scales. At the national level, the loss of food and income and the need to help farmers through bad years can set back development. At the household level, drought can wipe out crops and financial assets and leave families vulnerable to starvation.
The United States works at several levels to help countries anticipate drought and to provide farmers with tools to manage risks to their crops and finances. For example, the United States invests in early warning systems in developing countries such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), a joint effort by multiple U.S. agencies created after a devastating drought in Ethiopia in 1984. Currently, FEWS NET works with governments and international partners in 34 countries (Figure 16.2).50 In 2015, FEWS NET warned that Ethiopia was facing its worst drought in 60 years and projected that as many as 15 million people would face acute food insecurity. Before the drought and food crisis materialized, USAID mobilized an emergency aid program and provided 680,000 metric tons of food to more than 4 million people.51
U.S. investments in making Ethiopian agriculture more climate resilient also helped individual farmers cope with the 2015 drought. A financial risk management program enables farmers to buy “weather index” insurance, which links payouts to certain indicators of extreme weather, such as drought. The insurance program uses information from FEWS NET and coordinates with Ethiopian partners as well as global reinsurance companies. More than 25,000 Ethiopian farmers who purchased this type of insurance received payouts during the drought, helping them to pay off debts, feed their families, and care for livestock.52,53 Similar index insurance products are being developed through public–private partnerships across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Investments by the United States towards enhancing national capacity to produce and use climate information in decision-making, also known as climate services, help countries manage their own risks and build resilience. For instance, the United States collaborated with Jamaica’s meteorological service and agriculture ministry to develop a seasonal drought forecast tailored to the needs of Jamaican farmers. Jamaican agriculture was severely affected by drought in 2014.54 Crop production losses were 57% nationally and close to 75% among farmers identifying climate risks as a major concern. However, farmers who used the drought forecast fully were able to cut their losses nearly in half that year compared to farmers who did not use or did not have access to the forecast.55
Climate-resilience investments are being made to assist other key economic sectors in developing countries, including some that are expected to have benefits over longer time frames. For instance, in the Philippines, the United States has supported six cities and provinces to consider climate impacts in the provision of water supply and wastewater treatment services. The project is improving the design, management, and maintenance of long-lived infrastructure, as well as local planning and governance.56 It assisted one water-scarce city, Zamboanga City, in developing the country’s first-ever urban water demand management plan.57