The Climate Crisis is a Health and Humanitarian Crisis

On Thursday, November 10, 2022

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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responds to urgent medical and humanitarian crises in more than 70 countries. Our teams are providing medical care to those who are experiencing the health impacts of the climate emergency, many of whom are the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

MSF is participating as an official observer at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 6-18 November 2022. The goal for COP27 ranges from a transition toward renewable energy to financial support to vulnerable communities most affected by climate change. 

“The climate crisis must not be allowed to become an even greater humanitarian crisis. We need real climate justice for our patients now. ” Said Elisa de Siqueira, Humanitarian Advocacy Officer Climate crisis and humanitarian action, MSF Berlin.

In multiple countries where MSF works, such as Mozambique, Somalia, Cameroon, South Sudan, Madagascar, and Pakistan, our medical humanitarian teams are responding to medical emergencies that are worsened by climate change. For example, we are seeing increased transmission of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera as stagnant water and mosquitoes can fuel the spread of vector borne and waterborne illnesses. We are witnessing increased lack of access to safe drinking water and food insecurity which can lead to malnutrition, and extreme heat exposure that can lead to dehydration and mental health impacts.

69.9% of global deaths in 2019 were due to diseases that are climate-sensitive. 

The climate crisis is a health and humanitarian crisis. “Today, needs are already outstripping the response. This is a crisis of solidarity, and it is now giving way to a crisis of morality. The world cannot leave those suffering the most tragic consequences without support,” said Stephen Cornish, Director General of MSF Switzerland. “Today, we are reviewing our operational strategies to strengthen emergency preparedness. Adapting our activities to the realities of climate change, which will enable us to continue to provide the best care for our patients and deliver assistance where it is most needed.” 

Recognising the need for collective action against climate change, MSF signed the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations and a joint statement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Charter and joint statement aim to motivate and guide action plans against climate change, especially for the most vulnerable communities.  

Only concrete political action to implement solutions to limit climate change can prevent the humanitarian consequences. Humanitarian organisations respond to crises regardless of the cause. But their efforts in responding will not make up for the failures to adequately respond to these crises by our political leaders.

We all have an important role to play.