Awareness among ordinary people on the threat of climate change is low and I am concerned.
The impact of Climate change in the daily lives of the people round the world has been very visible in the news. We have seen graphic pictures of starving children, and dying animals from drought and food shortage. We have seen wild fires destroy homes and disrupt livelihoods and we have seen pictures of floods destroying homes and disrupting livelihoods of communities and there are reports of rising sea levels threatening to wipe out small island nations.
There are epidemics of malaria and other diseases attributed to climate change and pandemics such as Covid-19 are expected to increase in frequency as a consequence of climate change. Yes, we have been informed about how the Antarctic ice sheet is melting and separating.
At personal level, I have a farm where I grow entirely rain-fed crops. The rains have frequently failed in recent years resulting in food crop failure and I have lost money in the process. Worse still, the local the population are chronically short of food.
My major concern is that while Climate change is the single biggest threat facing humanity, I do not see a matching effort to inform and educate African populations actively about this very serious threat to them. The African people know that the rains are irregular but they do not know why and how to respond.
While no one is safe from the risks of climate change, the people whose lives are being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people in rural Africa who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families from the consequences.
Climate change is now affecting the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, access to food and secure shelter. It is estimated that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250, 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrheal diseases and heat stress among others causes. Countries with weak health infrastructure mostly from low income countries will be the least able to cope.
The Climate crisis threatens to undo the last several decades of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations. It is severely jeopardizing the achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in various ways – including by compounding the existing burden of disease and by exacerbating existing barriers to accessing health services, often at the times when they are most needed.
What therefore should our countries be doing to create climate resilient health systems? First, governments and Civil Society should ring the alarm bells, beat the war drums to raise awareness and visibility of this crisis among the population. The evidence to highlight the crisis is already available in the impact of the crisis on livelihoods. These countries can already respond by reducing emissions of toxic greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices which can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution which is an issue in many of our cities. Adaptation of agricultural practices to growing food crops that are resilient and can be safely stored for long periods including appropriate water management.
Our academic institutions should undertake climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessments at population and health care facility level to generate additional evidence to support advocacy and plan the response. Our governments should develop National Adaptation Plans targeting population health which should be widely disseminated among the people. Our Parliaments should enact laws on climate change and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that the implementation of the laws is fully funded.
Health professionals should become advocates for climate action and equip themselves with the necessary data to influence public opinion and national policy as well as acquire the technical competence to prepare the health system and the workforce to respond to the Climate Change generated disease burden.
Collectively as the global community, we should join the movement and campaign to cause the big carbon emitting economies to act to curb emissions faster than is being done now and meet the targets on keeping global temperature rise to the required levels.
What do you all think?