The debate, broadcasted on De Balie TV on October 11th, was an interesting opportunity to engage with local and international climate activists, politicians and policymakers, as well as a younger audience of students, and express MSF’s concerns regarding the undeniable and already tangible effects of the climate crisis.
Impacts are here, for a large part of people that we are trying to assist on a day to day basis. If we don’t change the course of direction, it will escalate.
We know from experience that the consequences of climate change hit stronger the most vulnerable people and communities (whom we already assist), thus deepening existing inequalities. Through our projects, we are responding to nutritional crises following extreme weather events, and to a variety of climate-sensitive diseases (such as dengue, zika and malaria) on which climate change will have a serious impact. Not only has this been widely documented in scientific literature, but we already see mosquito-transmitted diseases spreading in new settings and at a larger scale.
Importantly, climate change intersects with other health threats, such as political instability and mass migrations, but also changing interactions between humans, animals and the environment. This entails connected, compounding and cascading crises. Predicting the exact extent of the effects of the climate crisis on health is therefore an impossible exercise but, in many contexts where we work, MSF is already observing an accelerating pattern of consecutive emergencies, with little time in between for communities and the health system to recover. As health professionals and humanitarians, our capacity to treat and ensure basic needs are met is stretched, and we know that the situation is likely to get considerably worse. This urges us to better anticipate and get prepared to respond to the increasing number of crises we are facing, and to share the voices and lived experiences of the most vulnerable communities we work in.
However, given the enormity of human impacts and political obstacles, adaptation efforts are essential but fundamentally insufficient, as anticipated needs will far exceed the response capabilities of relief actors. It is crucial to recognise that we are facing a systemic crisis, where climate change puts extra pressure on already fragile health systems, likely to increase without prompt investments in epidemiological surveillance, primary and psychosocial care, and health promotion and prevention. As a humanitarian organization, our natural focus in MSF is to address the consequences of the climate crisis resulting in the many emergencies we see around the world, and we will keep speaking out on what we see.
Watch the full video below.