* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Addressing problems in silos creates false conflicts because health, climate and economic crises are linked
As the virus spreads across the African continent, innovative and collaborative initiatives are springing up to strengthen healthcare systems. Mobile apps that transmit agricultural prices and weather forecasts to farmers are also being used to send out messages on how to avoid contagion by Covid-19. In South Africa, the government is working with the private sector to manufacture 10,000 ventilators. In Kenya and Ghana, garment factories have switched to producing masks and protective clothing.
But in spite of this noteworthy spirit of collaboration and the efforts in healthcare systems to contain the pandemic, Covid-19 cases are growing fast across Africa and the economic aftershocks are worrisome.
The continent is facing its first recession in 25 years, risking throwing decades of progress into reverse. One-third of Africa’s total labour force – about 150 million people – are at risk of losing their livelihoods, according to research by consultants McKinsey. Hunger and poverty are on the rise. A decreasing demand for export commodities from Africa, are depriving governments of their main source of income.
The unequal impact of the pandemic on rich and poor, within nations and between them, is obvious. But Covid-19 is not a problem we can isolate, compartmentalise and forget. Victory over the pandemic in Africa is crucial to ending it elsewhere. Likewise, the economic disruption and severe hardships resulting from the outbreak will be felt beyond Africa’s shores. In July, the World Food Programme warned that the world’s poorest were being pushed “closer to the abyss of famine”, with the likelihood of new waves of migration, social conflict and the further erosion of human rights.
If we want to build a fairer, healthier and more resilient world in response to this pandemic, strong support by the international community is needed. Some African countries have already benefited from the Paris club/G20 debt standstill - this should be prolonged beyond 2020.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, says Africa will need $200 billion from the international community, to help address the immediate economic and social consequences and to recover better. Debt relief is an important part of the response. Without a comprehensive multilateral response the suffering will be unconscionable. And African countries, like all countries, must have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual immunization against Covid-19. This should be considered a global public good.
But to ensure one crisis does not breed the next, we need a more ambitious, integrated approach to deal with Africa’s longer-term challenges – particularly because the accelerating climate crisis will test us again, on a larger scale, with higher stakes.
Addressing problems in silos, whether poverty, food security, Covid-19 or climate, creates false conflicts. When the pandemic erupted, some leaders acted as if there was a choice between fighting Covid-19 or saving livelihoods. The same kind of thinking pits economic growth against climate protection; or mitigating carbon emissions against adapting to their warming effect on global temperatures. The reality is that we must address all of these challenges together, because neglecting one at the expense of others risks undermining the whole endeavour.
We need a new mindset – one that understands that the health and wellbeing of people are inextricably linked to the health of our planet. Protecting the natural habitats of wild animals will protect human beings from diseases, such as coronaviruses, that can jump species.
Helping nations adapt to the effects of climate change will not detract from the urgent need to bring down global carbon emissions. The Earth’s biodiversity is the backbone of humanity and a safety net for the existence and survival of all humans and all species on earth - its decline must therefore be stopped and reversed. Economic prosperity need not come at the expense of growing inequality or a degraded environment.
We need to break down these silos now because our health, climate and economic crises are linked. Effective action requires locally adapted, owned and managed national and sub-national adaptation plans and integrations of climate risk in planning.
Sweden has long promoted an integrated approach to development co-operation and now the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) is opening its first African office in Abidjan in the Côte d'Ivoire hosted by the African Development Bank. Its unique approach to building resilience to climate change involves sharing best practices from around the world and adapting them to local needs.
One of the first initiatives the GCA will launch in Africa with Swedish support is improving access to climate-informed digital services for farmers and their service providers. Agriculture is arguably the most vulnerable sector to climate change in Africa, and the region is already suffering from myriad recurring risks to food security and agricultural livelihoods. Good climate-risk management depends on the quality and sharing of climate-informed agricultural advisories, and given the scale of the need, the sector needs to go digital as fast as possible.
The spirit of co-operation that is sustaining the response to Covid-19 must be kept alive long after the pandemic is tamed, giving African economies and society time to heal and recover. Africa and the global international community have the knowledge and resources to deal with the continent’s multiple challenges, but only an integrated approach will bring success and security.
Ban Ki-moon is Chair of the Global Center on Adaptation and the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations and Peter Eriksson is the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and a Board Member of the GCA.