Published on 10 Nov 2022

Climate emergency: a humanitarian and health crisis

Climate emergency: a humanitarian and health crisis

The climate emergency is a humanitarian and health crisis that threatens to cause global disaster on the largest scale ever faced by humanity and nature. It has the potential to destroy life as we know it – and in the process, create health threats that will directly impact the lives of billions of people. Yet not all will be impacted equally: for the global South, the repercussions will be far more severe.

Some facts from the WHO:

  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress
  • The direct damage costs to health, is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion/year by 2030
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond

Climate change global health challenges
As filmmakers with a passion for global health storytelling, our team travels to locations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and working with communities in these regions, we’ve witnessed first-hand how climate change is directly impacting communities in the developing world. When filming ‘Insulin 100 Years On’ in Peru which focused on the global health crisis, the shoot was nearly cancelled as a result of a severe storm driven by La Niña.

Climate change impact on global health
On a more recent trip to Malawi working with the Mectizan Donation Program, we saw how seasonal changes are causing people to migrate across the border with Mozambique in search of scarce resources. This in turn has an effect on the tracking of the effectiveness of disease eradication, which is a good illustration of how climate change is affecting global health initiatives.

With fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions showing no sign of falling in line with the broadly-agreed levels defined by the Paris Agreement, the outlook for catastrophic weather patterns is grim. Extreme changes in weather mean more frequent heatwaves, more severe storms and floods, disruptions to water and food supply, and an increase in the incidence of zoonotic viruses. Added to this is the burden of mental health issues, which are compounded by the increased challenges related to climate change. 

The double burden: first and worst

The reality is that those who contribute least to the climate crisis are those whose health is being harmed first, and worst. This is backed up by a recently-published article that confirms the African continent is particularly at risk to climate change, by heating up more, and faster, than any other region in the world. The result is a double burden of climate chaos and the collapse of food supplies, health services and governmental institutions. As the World Health Organisation explains:

The climate crisis threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations. It severely jeopardizes the realization of universal health coverage (UHC) in various ways.

With world leaders gathered at Sharm-El Sheikh in Egypt for COP27, we all need to raise our voices so that climate justice is addressed as an urgent priority. Only by acting collectively and globally can real progress be achieved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to try to avoid climate chaos. For this to happen, renewed solidarity is required between all signatories of the Paris Agreement.

The world needs to act as one, and it needs to act now, if we are to address the global challenges that we now face.