Building Resilience through Innovation: 5 things you need to know about Climate Change and Health
In the December session of the Africa Dialogues, health and climate change leaders discussed how communities, governments and NGOs can innovate to offset the impact of climate change on health in Africa. Here are the five things you need to know:
1. “Climate change will disrupt health systems in Africa”
Dr Githinji Gitahi, Amref Health Africa CEO, opened the discussion highlighting how the extreme weather events we are seeing today - droughts in East Africa and floods in South Africa - are causing food insecurity and malnutrition, disrupting access to clean water and impacting communities’ ability to maintain good hygiene.
Despite Africa accounting for only 2-3% of global emissions, the repercussions of climate change are disproportionally affecting health outcomes across the continent, especially among vulnerable populations. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that of the 2,121 public health emergencies recorded in Africa in the past 20 years, 56% were linked to climate change. For Dr Githinji, the climate emergency and its impact on health requires innovation and adaptation from sector leaders; we must be prepared for its growing impact on human health – and act now to meet challenges of the future.
Climate Change and Health Emergencies in Africa
2. "Multi-sector, inclusive and coordinated” approaches to climate action
Responses to climate change must be “Multi-sector, inclusive and coordinated” – with the community at the centre of decision-making and implementation
Senior Health Geographer at the Ugandan Ministry of Health Didacus Namanya and Nutrition advisor for Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Diplav Sapkota spoke to the importance of community-led solutions as sustainable and viable vehicles for change.
Communities across African nations have valuable knowledge of local systems, many of which have been affected by climate disasters, forced migration and the diminishing nutrients of the lands they live on.
Namanya highlighted that the key to protecting the nutrition and livelihoods (and therefore health) of communities is to ensure that food systems are local, diversified and indigenous. The strengthening of pre-existing systems rather than importing solutions from outside will ensure that the community owns any changes designed –to fit their unique contexts - to innovate against the impact of climate change.
3. Public/Private collaboration to forge community-centred solutions
Public/private partnerships are critical to co-creating solutions to climate-related ill health. According to Amref WASH Program Director Dr Martin Muchangi, reliance on purely governmental funding is unstable, as these funds are often inflexible and can dry up suddenly.
This is where the role of the private sector and civil society emerge. Through partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society more flexible funding is possible for more transformative solutions.
These partnerships can maximise the use of new technologies, finance change from the bottom up, and support entrepreneurship and innovation within and across communities. Critical to these partnerships is the role of the most-affected community; they must be community-centred to ensure lasting, sustainable solutions to growing threats to health.
4. Leading with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
You can’t have healthy people in an unsanitary environment, emphasised Director of intergovernmental support & collective progress at UNFCCC, Cecelia Kinuthia-Njenga. The effects of climate change on access to clean water and sanitary environments should put WASH at the forefront of conversations about climate adaptation, resilience, and innovation.
Repositioning WASH is an example of centring the community in climate solutions, challenging how we currently talk about climate change, and proposing a shift from energy-focussed discussions to adopting a people-first lens.
5. Intersectionality – or an “eco-system” approach
Climate change threatens so many parts of human life, solutions cannot be created in isolation to one another. An ‘eco-system’ approach is needed to make substantive and transformative change to protect communities’ health against the threat of climate change.
This means collaborating between party stakeholders and non-governmental actors, and integrating across sectors, viewing food systems, agriculture, development, and human health as integral to climate solutions, alongside discussions around energy production.
Innovation without this multilateral approach will fail to meet the many threats climate change poses.
Written by Megan Clementson Cox, Fundraising Officer, Amref UK.
[Images: 1. Climate change & drought in Marsabit, Kenya (c) Stefano Guindan 2. Drought in Afar, Ethiopia (c) Martha Tadesse 3. Climate change & livestock, Marsabit, Kenya (c) Stefano Guindan 4. WASH in Malawi (c) David Brazier 5. Barriers to Delivering Vaccines (c) Amref Health Africa]