Only hours into PACJA’s discussion on Africa’s vulnerable situation with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic amidst a climate crisis, raging floods and mudslides have left a trail of destruction and deaths in the Rift Valley region of Kenya.
Besides displacing 4,000 people, killing at least four and leaving dozens missing, the mudslides happening in a county bordering another where at least 50 people were killed by a landslide last December, has swept homes, schools, churches and a police post, besides killing livestock and destroying crop.
This would not be anyone’s wish, not even on their worst enemy. More so at this time when the world is struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought all economies to a standstill, and is still wreaking havoc in several countries, with deaths nearing 163,000 worldwide. The United States leads in Covid-19 deaths at nearly 40,000, but with at least 67,000 cases of recovery. The same country was last week hit by at least 39 tornadoes that caused destruction of property and loss of lives.
The African continent is at crossroads. While zoonotic diseases have been a threat to humans for decades, no one saw the novel coronavirus coming, at least not the current level of devastation it has caused. The pandemic has taken centre stage, despite the fact that the problems that existed before are still staring us in the face. And everyone globally has suffered. The situation for Africa is, however, different as the effects of the climate crisis have gradually and continuously devastated communities, including loss of life and livelihoods. Images of the aftermath of the recent mudslides are disturbing, with body parts of animals seen trapped between rocks and families now searching for their loved ones and belongings in the mud.
Truth be told, Africa needs to be treated as a special case. The cries for Africa to be considered a continent with special needs have been loud, but conveniently ignored by the biggest contributors to global warming. This has contributed to the continent and its people suffering more from the impacts of the climate crisis because we are not well-equipped to deal with natural calamities. In fact, this same issue was swept under the carpet at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP25 in Madrid, Spain, in 2019, leaving Africa with an egg on its face for innocently stating its genuine needs. However, despite this anti-climax, the African Group of Negotiators was already looking at ways to ensure this time Africa gets heard on this crisis at the COP26, and we must not relent. Everyone in the global community must take responsibility for their contributions to the climate change. Africans also need to live.
In 2019, a threat to the continent’s food security came in the form of a desert locust invasion. Countries were busy deploying measures to deal with the locusts, but when the novel coronavirus struck, attention shifted. One would have been forgiven for assuming the locusts had abandoned mission and decided to work from home to let the coronavirus pass. But the destructive insects are still here and have been busy. News that they have now invaded Uganda means we are dealing with more than one crisis.
The effect of Covid-19 on African nations’ economies is insurmountable. The fact that the pandemic struck spontaneously is undeniable. However, the fact that massive financial resources have been mobilised and allocated to address the crisis and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic to allow economies to get back on their feet means the resources were available all along. Yet, climate change, which evidently takes away more lives, albeit more gradually, has been ignored for decades and those most responsible for the crisis won’t release green climate funds.
As communities struggle with natural disasters such as the mudslides in Kenya, their safety from Covid-19 is compromised, as they troop to rescue centres to receive state relief. This is likely to be the same scenario elsewhere should natural disasters occur during this period.
But how will Africa ever get out of this quagmire?
As the Covid-19 crisis continues to ravage the globe, nations around the world are looking inwards on how to rebuild their economies and bolster their societies. We will be doomed if we do not learn from this crisis and start thinking of how Africa can cushion its societies against the impacts of climate change, while continuing the fight to get all nations globally to play their part.
African governments must now work on building the continent’s resilience, with a focus on strengthening systems across all sectors such as health and the environment. Several crises that are not necessarily climate-induced need to be faced without dependence on developed nations. With the Covid-19 there have been several efforts to innovate. Kenya’s Kenyatta University just unveiled a prototype for a ventilator, which has so far received commendations. This is the time to increase funding to research institutions and the manufacturing sector African nations can stop being the market for the East and Western nations’ sub-standard products.
Technology and knowledge transfer must be prioritised, as this is now proving to be one way in which businesses can continue even with a catastrophe of the Covid-19 magnitude. The use of technology must be extended to agriculture to deal with food insecurity, especially in poor African countries.
In addition, our Nationally Determined Contributions, as per the Paris Agreement, must take shape and countries begin immediate implementation. Time is running out.
African nations must also strengthen financial institutions so that the money saved in foreign accounts can build Africa. African governments must also fight corruption and build trust among their nationals.
We must not forget that Covid-19 has not replaced the problems Africa or any other nation already had. It has just compounded them, and Africa remains the worst affected.