December 3, 2012

CLIMATE CHANGE AND AFRICA’S HEALTH


For health anywhere to be sustained, people need clean air, safe water, adequate food, tolerable temperature, stable climate, and high levels of biodiversity. Climate change is envisaged to alter all these requirements of a healthy population especially in Africa where poverty and frequent famines have exacerbated the continent’s ability to adapt and prevent effects on climate change. The economic and environmental wellness coupled with the health of the African population have deeply rooted inter-linkages that adverse effects on any of the components will surely affect the whole system consequently impeding the minimal progress.
Although some African countries have seen most of the worst effects of climate change effects on health, the bad news is that it is projected to get worse. Horn of Africa has suffered malnutrition expressly from the recurrent food shortages. Malnutrition is the most touted health effect resulting from climate change yet not much has been done to arrest the situation. The most important point of discussion by all the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should be that of adaptation. Farmers cannot cope with the increasingly unpredictable weather given the over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture.
The multi-thronged health and climate change nexus presents researchers everyday with new challenges as latest studies suggest there will be increased occurrence of tropical diseases on the continent fueled by the changing climate. Malaria is set to spread in the previously cooler regions as a result of global warming and other resultants of extreme weather such as heavy flooding and drought. It is however, as in many cases of natural events, the children who get affected the most. It is estimated that 85% of children in Africa suffer from malaria, yellow fever, diarrhea, malnutrition, as well as getting caught up in natural disasters; compounding their vulnerability.
The scientific evidences in Africa connecting climate change and population health may be flimsy but all the projections and monitoring of trends all point towards a tough future should no decisive actions be taken. That is why research should be fundamental in the attempts to understand the potential impacts of climate change on health in the continent.  Beyond climate change, other environmental variations have been known to cause health-related complications, for instance change in diet and lifestyles have led to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. Previously it was believed that these diseases affected only the well-to do households but not anymore. The burgeoning of middle class over the last 3 decades adds to this problem.
The fact that climate change is as a result of human processes, besides natural events, cannot be overstated. UNFCCC brought a platform for governments to seek and implement ways to minimize human activities that directly affect the environment. This step taken by United Nations has been seen as a potent path to a solution. The parties to the UNFCCC approved Kyoto protocol to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, another bold step despite some vital countries refusing to sign.
The ultimate objective of UNFCCC is “Stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Therefore parties to the convention must periodically communicate information related to its implementation to the Conference of Parties (COP), to monitor the status of the climate in member countries and effective interventions.
The all vital issue right now for governments is health adaptation to climate change. The Framework for Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change is intended to provide a scientific and evidence-based coordinated response to the climate change adaptation needs of African countries in order to support the commitments and priorities of African governments. Despite the positive actions being taken by UNFCCC, there is an urgent need for a renewed commitment to reinforce the gains made. COP18 in Doha is a perfect opportunity.  

By Daniel Wasonga ~ African Union Youth Volunteer
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

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