By Clifford Akumu
There is a need to include reproductive issues as a component in the climate change and health talks.
Stakeholders at the ongoing regional workshop on health and climate change taking place in Lilongwe, Malawi have been urged to seriously look beyond the infectious and communicable diseases and see the bigger symbiotic relationship between population growth and climate change.
According to Prof. Sosten Chiwotha, the Executive Director of Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) for Southern and Eastern Africa, environmental degradation creates vulnerability to climate change and this environmental degradation mainly comes because of population growth.
He further said environmental degradation brings in two extremes; excessive rainfall, which subjects land to flooding and makes people who rely on surface water like rivers and wetlands have problems because the water which they would have used, may have run off because of environmental degradation and eventually lead to drought.
“When you have high population growth, it means people settle in areas that are fragile because in normal places they cannot settle or grow crops because they are already occupied. This therefore means that whenever there is extreme weather like flush floods, it is in those fragile areas where people stay because of high population growth and urbanization leading to exposure to disasters.
“There are these linkages between climate change, health, and the impacts of extreme weather shocks that appear to be escaping the discussions around climate change and health. People must be empowered to begin seeing the interconnectedness of population, environment and health in development. This is what will fully bring in resilience,” Chiwotha said.
He further said voluntary family planning is one of the strategies that need to be in place in the adaptation to climate change drive. He said if people decide to choose when to have children and make choice of caring and educating their children, they will be able to do other things like growing crops and growing trees.
“For adaptation to be effective, everyone must participate whether it is the youths or women and this will be good for building resilience. When we have floods, we find that some clinics are washed away, and the women are the worst affected in such a situation so we should not leave them behind when it comes to building resilience.
“The main point is that we want to create opportunities for everyone to participate fully in the adaptation drive and it should not be policy makers and duty bearers only. For your information, it is evident that the demand for voluntary family planning is higher than the services rendered which means that most people have already embraced the concept of voluntary family planning,” he said.
The workshop is taking place under the USAID-funded Building Capacity for Integrated Family Planning/Reproductive Health and Population, Environment and Development Action (BUILD) project which has drawn together its consortium members like AFIDEP, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, the LEAD, FHI360, and Path Foundation of Philippines. However, the workshop is a joint effort of BUILD, through AFIDEP, PACJA and LEAD have teamed up with the Amref Health Africa, Africa Group of Negotiators, WHO and Welcome Trust.
Dr. Eliya Zulu, the Executive Director of the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) called on partners to put enough resources into health research, innovation and integrated approaches that would inform a nexus programming to the effects of climate change.
“Time has come for Africa to set its priorities right and drive formal discussions that are critical this time when the continent has been hit hard by the cyclone Freddy and other incidents not only in Malawi but also in other African countries, be it drought, or otherwise.
“It is important to build political momentum on the global climate change diplomacy and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) negotiations to build evidence and arguments that will support Africa’s agenda to reshape health preparedness and responsiveness to climate change effects,” he said.
Zulu added by calling all the participants to look at the impact of population growth on development and climate change. He urged participants to use evidence-based information in mitigating the impact of climate change on health in light of population growth.