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Friday, 27 March 2020 00:00

Covid-19 Surge Aggravates Climate Crisis in Africa

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By Eugene Nforngwa
“Earth closed for repairs”.  Few jokes capture the existential crisis facing the planet right now, as the world shuts down city by city. Since it was first reported in China last December, Covid-19 has spread untamed and has quickly morphed into a global pandemic. This week, the number of infected people in all corners of the world was set to surpass half a million.  At least 21,000 have already died.

The numbers have been less dramatic but rising in Africa. Infection cases are around 600, with dozens of deaths. African governments expect the statistics to change rapidly, doubling and even tripling in a few weeks or days. And, they omit potentially thousands of infected people who have mingled in the public undetected. Past a certain threshold, public health experts expect the outbreak to spiral out of control and wreck an already perilous public health system.  “Governments must draw on all of their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response,” the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti has cautioned.

In many ways, Covid-19 is one of the darkest moments in global public health. The outbreak is the forewarnings of a new world order; and a test for the collective grit of mankind to deal with an emergency of global scale.  For those of us in the climate justice community, it is a premonition of what a climate meltdown might look like. For decades, scientists and advocates have warned that climate change was fomenting an existential crisis likely to disrupt global politics and economies in unrecognisable ways. That future appears more imminent today than at any other time. Last year, the UN Environment warned that “we are on the brink of missing the opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5°C.” Unless the world changes course, a climate meltdown is inevitable, and Africa will suffer the hardest blow. Pathogens and diseases have been projected to emerge as the globe warms.

Covid-19 is making that more likely. The outbreak is serving as a climate change threat multiplier, exacerbating the drivers of vulnerability on the continent, particularly persistent poverty, unequal distribution of wealth, poor resource management, conflicts, and weak infrastructure to deep mistrust between states and citizens. The outbreak will wipe out at least 30 million jobs on the continent and push down growth in many countries by an average of 2-3%, as estimated by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which has also indicated that US$29 Billion has been wiped off Africa’s GDP for the past three weeks. On 23 March 2020, African ministers of finance warned that Covid-19 has placed additional strain on already underfunded efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the continent’s Agenda 2063 targets.

Africa is unprepared for the scale of investment that is needed to curb Covid-19 and cushion its consequences. Many governments around the continent are counting on trickling foreign aid. African finance ministers estimate that the continent needs a $100-billion economic stimulus to sustain its Covid-19 response, including the costs of lockdown measures. This is a far cry from the United States’ stimulus package of $2 trillion, an amount that has been described as the “largest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history.” Michele Barry, the Director of the Centre for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University, refers to Africa’s case as a ‘time bomb’.

The continent is in bad shape for many reasons. Globally, priorities have shifted, resources have been diverted and climate action has come to a standstill. When it is all over, Africa will be left far more incapable of recovering than the rest of the world, and even less capable than it currently is, to cope with the impacts of climate change or contribute its bit to mitigate global warming.

Decades of bad governance, marked by deep-seated corruption in many countries, capital flight and illegal resource-extraction, have also left the continent ad-libbed for the twin crises of Covid-19 and climate change. In 2019, the African Forum for Combating Corruption established that the African continent loses up to $50 billion “through corruption and illegal financial flows” every year. This is money that could have served in addressing the multiple drivers of vulnerability in Africa. African citizens have also showed extra-ordinary levels of recklessness.

Clearly Africa lacks the capacity to tackle a crisis of a Covid-19 magnitude because of its level of poverty, poor infrastructure, and inadequate social infrastructure like health facilities should the numbers rise beyond control of any country. Governments can attempt mitigating the situation by guaranteeing loans or asking lenders to loosen restrictions for borrowers as they absorb the Covid-19 shock. Tax reliefs would be another way to add money to citizens’ pockets while other taxes could be waived temporarily for investors. But the continent will need help, a lot of help, to do so.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
A time has come for us to face the truth about this climate crisis.
Last year, two weeks of incessant negotiations at the UNFCCC’s COP25 that took place in Madrid, Spain at the close of 2019 resulted in several outcomes that are very key to Africa and its people.

The conference attended by at least 27,000 delegates aimed to highlight the gap between progress in the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the goals individual signatory nations set towards the same. It was this that informed the massive protest march in the Madrid streets.
The meeting was also meant to emphasize to the world how critical climate action was, and that it was time the gap between goals and the milestones so far was bridged.
The event was big, but the outcomes quite a disappointment, especially for Africa, the sufferer of some of the worst climate change induced calamities, to which it has contributed the least.

The silence by the World’s biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases on possible plans to contribute towards an enhanced adaptation, mitigation or financing climate action is worrying for Africa.
The COP25 failed to deliver ambitious decisions that reflect the special circumstances and needs of Africa based on the unfolding climate crisis. Besides failure by the big shots to make further commitments for the sake of addressing the climate crisis, there also lacked transparency or genuineness during the talks. All this was to the disadvantage of the poor African nations.

Consideration of Africa as a special need case was an issue that did not need any debating because, truth be told, the continent is a special case when it comes to climate crisis. But even with intense lobbying and persuasion, things remained the same.

This is to say that Africa is on her own on matters of climate crisis. It is to say that nobody bothers if we live or die, with the climate-induced irregular rain patterns messing our land and leading to crop failure in so many cases. This is to say, in short, that other countries marvel at the sight of Africa begging for food, its children and livestock dying as they walk long distances trying to look for food, pasture and water, and that it matters not if our economies collapse because heavy rains, mudslides, floods and cyclones mess our roads as well as social and other amenities.

It does not matter to anyone if our children miss school, are displaced and forced to live in church compounds, suffer malnutrition or are left behind as the world advances in technology and knowledge.

But for how long shall we be beggars in our own homes?

That UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress expressed disappointment at the COP25 outcomes is not enough to show what lack of the cooperation by noticeable figures meant for the African continent. The truth is, things are bad. Yet the climate crisis won’t wait for us to resolve these ego issues and pick up later. The truth is, the floods, famine, climate induced conflict and migration, poor infrastructure, stunted economic growths besides so many other harm will continue to bedevil us, worse in Africa. The pain remains: We are suffering for the sins committed by our bigger brothers, who are too busy peeing on us, and on the same soil from which we seek to get food.
And so, what can we do, as the African Union Summit congregates here in Addis Ababa guided by theme: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa's Development”?

We must not keep quiet. We must retell our story in any and all languages, whenever and wherever. We must not shy away from telling the world what we need for mitigation and adaptation to this climate crisis.
Remember the climate crisis has a direct link to the many guns whose sounds rent the air in Africa. We shall continue to hear several gunshots if we do not make it possible for our people to access food, potable water and adequate pasture. They will walk long distances in search of the basic and as such trespass. They shall fight because of poverty, simply because we did not act in good time. Today, the world is running away from the killer coronavirus, but we are walking in forests of desert locusts that are soon exposing us to a serious food shortage. This, despite information about the invasive locusts coming in good time from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
It boils down to one thing: Our governments are not that equipped to handle, synthesize or quickly lay down mechanisms to address such climate-induced threats. Sometimes there is just no capacity to do the right thing.

Why then would someone still put a powerless Africa through hell by just abandoning any good idea that would lead to our social, health and economic growth?
These same countries fighting for Africa’s failure have led the way in messing our environments through disastrous mining and other acts.

I would like to encourage all African nations that green economic pathway is the best way to go. Let’s protect our environment from abuse by miners of coal and direct them to the unexploited safer and cleaner sources of energy in wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal. No more coal powered projects should be allowed on African soil because we do not want stranded assets. We want our biodiversity safe, whole and alive.

The countries now busy funding such projects in Africa are abandoning the same in their backyards. Time has come for us to ask the likes of China and the US, under its climate insensitive President Dnarld Trump: Why Africa?

Let us work on the policies that will enable the wellbeing of the African people. Push for the policies that will ensure the right knowledge is imparted to the people to ensure preparedness for disaster and development of adaptive infrastructure for the sake of minimising deaths when disasters strike.
I also appeal for CSOs to work with governments and ensure maximum access to green climate fund to enable capacity building and ensure maximum addressing of the climate crisis.

This is the only world we know. A few years from now, history will judge us harshly if we do not do the right thing for the generations to come. Being in the CSOs to do this climate job is a calling, and we must answer with the right actions, and not create death traps for our children in the name of growing our economies.

May God Bless Africa!

Mithika Mwenda,
Executive Director,

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