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How Climate Change Projects Can Improve Human Health in Africa

Image: African women giving and receiving healthcare by Hush Naido from Unsplash

The Current State of Healthcare in Africa

Poor healthcare kills five million people each year in low and middle-income countries. 43 out of these 152 countries are in Africa, what's more, is it's also 22% of the world.

Environmental health is the root of human health. Health problems like respiratory and heart diseases, as well as some types of cancer, are induced by environmental pollutants. 10% of recorded global death and around one quarter of deaths and disease burden in children under five years of age are caused by environmental risks.

A ruined planet cannot sustain human lives in good health. A healthy planet and healthy people are two sides of the same coin. - Dr. Margaret Chan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization

According to the World Health Organization, Global Climate Change is the leading environmental risk to healthcare. Average global temperatures are projected to rise by 1.1–6.4 °C between 1990 and 2100. African communities with scarce resources, little technology, and frail infrastructure are going to suffer the greatest effect of climate change on health. Already, climate change is estimated to be responsible for 3% of diarrhea, 3% of malaria, and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004 and the numbers are predicted to increase in the future.

The main ways climate change can influence human health are through stratospheric ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and ecosystem function, freshwater decline ,and desertification and land degradation. Mitigating each of these will directly reduce the potential risk to human health.

Climate Change Mitigation Projects

Great Green Wall: Climatic factors and human activities such as overpopulation and overexploitation are increasingly driving desertification and land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. The desertification process affects 46% of Africa. The significance of this large area becomes evident when one considers that about 43% of the continent is characterised as extreme deserts (the desert margins represent the areas with very high vulnerability). One of the affected regions is Sub-Saharan Africa where it has caused a rise of famine, polluted water sources, poverty, migration, extinction of species, and conflict as well as increased vulnerability to natural disasters.

Image: Trees in the desert by VANSEp AWAN from Unsplash

The Great Green Wall an initiative by the African Union is a way to combat desertification in the Sahel region and hold back the expansion of the Sahara, by planting a wall of trees stretching across the entire Sahel. It has since evolved into a program promoting water harvesting techniques, greenery protection, and improving indigenous land use techniques, aimed at creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa hence helping communities mitigate and adapt to climate change. The initiative is bound to solve problems like food insecurity, lack of water, conflicts driven by lack of natural resources, mass migration and unemployment.

Biodiversity conservation: Due to climate change temperature and weather patterns are changing and becoming unbearable for several species and in turn their ecosystem. Loss of biodiversity interrupts the food chain and agriculture. The goal of biodiversity conservation is to protect, preserve, and ensure the sustainable management of species and their ecosystems.

Image: Sitting lion by Prem Gangar from Unsplash

Ex situ conservation meaning the conservation of life outside their natural habitat. It is the method in which part of the population or the entire endangered species is migrated from its natural habitat which is threatened to artificial ecosystems where they are bred and maintained. The artificial habitat is designed to meet their food, water, and space needs.

A balance in the artificial ecosystem plays an important role in the healthcare of humans by altering the interactions between organisms, their physical and chemical environments breeding infectious diseases.

Human nutrition is also influenced by biodiversity, as it ensures the sustainable productivity of soils and provides the genetic resources for all crops, livestock, and marine species harvested for food. Access to a sufficiency of a nutritious variety of food is important for human health.

Freshwater promotion: In many regions, the availability of water in both quantity and quality is severely affected by climate variability and climate change, with more or less precipitation in different regions and more extreme weather events. In many regions, water demand is increasing as a result of population growth and other demographic changes (in particular urbanisation) and agricultural and industrial expansion.

Image: Children holding containers by Tucker Tangeman from Unsplash

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is the most recognized sustainable solution to water scarcity. IWRM promotes the coordinated development and management of resources such as water and land with the purpose of maximising equitable healthcare without compromising the sustainability of these resources and the environment.

IWRM is mainly based on 3 principles

  1. Social Equity, water resources are distributed equally among users to benefit and sustain their wellbeing.

  2. Economic Efficiency, future and social environmental costs are considered.

  3. Ecological Sustainability, aquatic and land ecosystems are not negatively impacted.

An example of where IWRM has been successful is the Lerma-Chapala River Basin – one of world’s most water-stressed basins. Rapid population growth combined with industrial and agricultural development lead to serious imbalances in supply and demand of water. The increasing competition over water resources in the basin, combined with poor governance, led to over-exploitation of surface and ground water resources, increasingly frequent conflicts over water allocations, and considerable levels of water pollution and soil degradation.

As a result from 1981 to 2001, Lerma Chapala River lost 90% of its natural volume and the remaining water was left heavily contaminated causing diseases such as diarrhea. Recently due to a move towards IWRM and subsequent improvements in water governance, the situation has improved: the natural capacity of the lake has been restored, water quality is improving with around 60% of discharges eliminated increasing good health and eradicating diseases; irrigation efficiency has risen; and finance has been secured to invest in water sanitation and treatment programs.

Considering all of these factors, the relationship between climate change projects and human health is as bright as day. Human beings need clean air, safe drinking water, food, and shelter to survive. With the increasing change of weather patterns, the supply of these needs will be shortened and will affect human health. Mitigating the change in climatic effects is the solution to keep humanity healthy.


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