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Big change starts small: The human impact of the climate crisis

By Practical Action On 21.04.2023 DisasterBlog

A belief that was central to the philosophy of our founder E.F. ‘Fritz’ Schumacher is that big change must start small to work for those who need it. This philosophy is as relevant now as when Fritz was working.

We hope you’re enjoying this series of articles written by Practical Action staff from around the world, about our ‘Big change starts small’ ethos. In this third post, Miluska Ordoñez Caldas, a Project Specialist in our Peru Team, explores our work with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and how it’s supporting people in flood-prone areas become more resilient. 


Globally, the impacts of climate change are getting worse. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly extreme and erratic. The world’s poorest people, who are least to blame, are hardest hit. We’re taking a multi-layered approach, from working with communities on the ground so they can adapt to the changing climate, to making sure their voices are heard at the highest level. 

Climate change, combined with population growth, urbanization and economic development, is worsening flooding in many regions. We believe that everyone should have the tools to predict and prepare for climate-related hazards like floods, to minimise the impact on their lives and livelihoods. 

Floods have caused $115 billion damage in the last half century. 

This vision is shared by the humanitarian, development, research and private sector partners that make up the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, funded by the Z Zurich Foundation and Zurich Insurance. We’ve been working together for decades to strengthen people’s resilience to floods and other climate hazards. We work with flood prone communities and local government in resilience planning, building capacity of local governance bodies to implement agreed measures and using the lessons to influence for policy and practice change.  

“I think the answer lies within the community and the people. We can’t wait for others to take action. We have to take responsibility and work within ourselves.” 
Camilla, Flood Resilience Brigade Leader in Santa Eulalia, Peru 

With our support, Camilla has become a leader in her community, helping others prevent floods, minimise the damage they cause and recover more quickly from them.

In Peru, we’re working with the national hydrometeorological agency to roll out our early warning systems across the country. 135,000 people are now protected by an early warning system, thanks to the activities of the Alliance. In November 2020, we expanded our programme of work to Senegal and Zimbabwe. 

Keeping the needs of communities in the spotlight  

Alongside our work on the ground with communities affected by climate change, we work to influence decisionmakers to create policies that consider the needs of those communities and keep those needs on the global agenda. From national media coverage to shaping UN priorities, it’s a continuation of our heritage and our core belief that no-one should be left behind.  

A flood gauge in this river in Nepal means Parvati’s community can mitigate the effects of flooding.

We have seats in key international committees and advocacy networks and are adept at getting the perspectives of communities heard, influencing policy makers, and other organisations such as insurance companies, to adapt their approaches so that they help reduce and mitigate these risks.  

The Terra Carta: building an economy with people and planet at its heart  

In 2021, our Patron His Majesty King Charles III launched the Terra Carta, a blueprint for how the private sector can help address the climate emergency and environmental degradation. The Terra Carta sets out an action plan to achieve this by 2030, by harnessing the power of Nature, combined with the transformative power, innovation, and resources of the private sector. 

The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (the Alliance) was included in the latest impact report for the Terra Carta. Both Practical Action examples combine an innovative approach to development with private sector expertise to create sustainable change for good at scale. 

His Majesty is an admirer of the work of our founder, E.F. Schumacher, and has been Patron of Practical Action since 1980. We share the same goal of bringing businesses into the fight against the effects of climate change. His convening power has helped keep the issues faced by communities in the spotlight and has been instrumental in bringing our work to a wider audience. We are very grateful for his long-term support. 

It’s often simple interventions that can make a huge difference for individuals, and when these are replicated and scaled up, so is the impact. This is the heart of Practical Action’s ‘Big change starts small’ philosophy. 

It’s why we’re committed to building the commitment and investment needed to scale up sustainable solutions like these – and deliver the big change that the world so badly needs.