Africa: Transformative Leadership: The Solution to Global Health and Climate Crises

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As the world tentatively moves toward recovery from what we hope is the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded that an even larger threat remains: climate change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns are already drying crucial water resources both above and below ground, diminishing agricultural production and worsening malnutrition on the continent. Extreme weather, conflict and economic upheaval saw close to 100 million people in eastern, western and southern Africa suffer from acute food insecurity in 2020 (a near 40% increase from 2019). This trifactor has also contributed greatly to a rise in human displacement in the wider Horn of Africa region.

Climate change and its impacts do not discriminate. However, considering the wealth inequalities existing between the richest and poorest nations and hierarchical make-up of African society, girls, women and children will be the biggest victims if global warming goes unchecked. During periods of drought and major flooding for example, they are left more vulnerable to disruptions in provision of essential health services such as immunization and sexual and reproductive health care, child, forced and early marriage (CEFM), loss of education opportunities and income, and exposure to sexual and gender-based violence as they travel longer distances to fetch water and firewood.

As the primary sources of unpaid labor in traditional settings, women (and girls) walk an average of 6 kilometres in a single roundtrip to fetch 20 liters of water for use in the home, often making the trip several times a day to collect enough water for household use. In countries like Kenya, where firewood is the main source of fuel for cooking and heating for 9 out of 10 rural households, women spend about 3 hours each week collecting the precious resource; and as caregivers, women spend more time caring for children and the elderly who fall ill as climate-related and other infectious diseases spread.

We cannot, and should not, normalize the agony of those less privileged. We cannot maintain the status quo that allows an 8-year-old girl in a wealthy country spend her days studying and playing while her agemates in low- and middle-income countries spend theirs walking long distances to fetch drinking water and laboring increasingly harder on family farms for diminishing harvests.

For a healthier and more prosperous tomorrow for all, we must take action today. Protecting people and the planet is not optional; it must be done. To do this we must address the shortcomings in political and commercial decisions we make today, beginning with a reimagination of global leadership that is equitable.