COP26: Climate health risks in Africa set to get “critical”

Africa has already started to feel the worst effects of climate change. With countries on the continent unprepared to respond to increasing climate-induced natural disasters and disease, what can governments do to ensure their economies and populations can weather future storms?



Rising health risks to African populations driven by climate change are set to worsen to critical levels as natural disasters become more widespread, an event held on the side-lines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow heard on 4 November.

“Undoubtedly climate change is leading to ever growing pressures on health systems and populations across the world. This is most notable in developing economies, such as those in Africa that are being disproportionately impacted by extreme weather conditions. Climate change, from droughts, floods and other natural disasters, is leading to population displacements and as a result greater risk of pandemics and other health outbreaks,” says African Risk Capacity, or ARC, an agency of the African Union established to help African governments improve their capacities to cope with extreme weather events and natural disasters.

The trends in the fallout from climate change for African countries are slowly changing, with climate-induced catastrophes set to become more serious and widespread on the continent, says Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez a senior advisor on Africa at the Global Center on Adaptation.

“As Africa’s health indicators begin to improve, the health impacts of climate change become more and more critical. As malaria expands its areas, as malnutrition caused by crop failures becomes more widespread and as you have more vulnerability to floods in low income communities. But the solution is not always in the health sector.                          

Africa Risk Capacity event discusses how African countries can prepare for the next pandemic, and what needs to be done to ensure health systems across the continent are strengthened on the side-lines of COP26 in Glasgow.

Despite the dismal outlook, African countries are ill-equipped to tackle the impact of natural disasters on their populations, and need to transform their culture of disaster risk management, says Dr Amadou Bah , the senior public health and country liaison officer at ARC says.

 “In countries in the Africa region there is significant work needed to better detect, prepare and respond to disease outbreaks,” he said.

One of the key challenges is data collection, and ensuring the relevant authorities on the ground have essential information to craft their response in a timely manner, says the UNDP’s Director of the Regional Service Centre for Africa, Stan Nkwain.

Speakers discuss how to strengthen the impact of climate change on health through risk management and adaptation in Glasgow.

“We know that all disasters, including those triggered by biological hazards such as Covid-19 do impact people differently. And when it comes to decision making for early action preparedness the data needed is often hard to obtain,” he said.

 “We are therefore working to establish data platforms to support national and local authorities in the collection of data risk and mapping.”

The existing culture of disaster risk management, such as early warning systems for prevention and ensuring the right response mechanisms are in place, needs to be overhauled, starting with data collection capacity, says Ijjasz-Vasquez from the Global Center on Adaptation.

“There are three elements that are important in that process of transformation. One is to have the infrastructure needed for those early warning systems to work. Meaning the data collection, the ability to project and predict what may be happening in the future, and the mechanism to have the information in the hands of everybody who needs to have it.”

Only 45% of Africa’s population has access to strong health opportunities so any shock risks plunging communities into poverty, a new report by the Global Center on Adaptation finds. While currently 50m people on the continent a year are thrown into poverty because of the expenses related to health crises.

Preparedness around the world costs $5 per person per year, with the cost of Covid-19 estimated at $11trn to date, and a further $10trn in lost earnings, a recent WHO report found. This adds up to $20trn a year, a quarter of global GDP.

ARC recently expanded its remit beyond helping governments cope with natural disasters and extreme weather, by launching a programme to respond to health outbreaks and epidemics. If widely adopted, the ARC outbreaks and epidemic product will enable countries to prevent outbreaks from turning into epidemics, save lives, and prevent economic devastation, it says.

The director-general of the African Risk Capacity Group, Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, urged African governments to cooperate with the agency to protect their economies and people from future health outbreaks and climate disasters.

“It’s important that we do is built around a good framework and a good strategy – in this case a national strategy of disaster risk management. We at ARC believe that the only way we can intervene in a much more sustainable way, is to make sure that countries have a national disaster risk strategy, so what we do fits with the overall strategy of the country.”

This event on the sidelines of COP26 was coordinated by IC Events, sister company of IC Publications, publishers of African Business.

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