MSF on Cop27: Humanitarian aid alone ‘inadequate’ in face of climate disasters

Affected families take refuge on the road after their flood-hit homes in Jaffarabad, in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, 1 September, 2022. Pakistani health officials have reported an outbreak of waterborne diseases in areas hit by recent record-breaking flooding. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Zahid Hussain)

MSF is among the NGOs going to Egypt for Cop27. Dikoleka Kalubi, global health coordinator for the organisation, reminds us of the importance of the humanitarian implications in a world at the mercy of climate disasters.

Humanitarian organisations have a role to play in amplifying the voice of communities most vulnerable to climate change. In essence, that’s the message of the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which will be present at the international climate conference in Egypt for the second year in a row. This time around, the NGO will participate in several panels on nutrition and health issues.

What is the  humanitarian organisation’s perspective on the challenges –  the responsibility of developed countries, adaptation, financing – that will dominate discussions at Cop27? spoke with Dikoleka Kalubi, global health coordinator for the NGO as well as water and sanitation engineer. What is MSF’s interest in going to Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh?

Dikoleka Kalubi: The goal is to bring a humanitarian perspective so that climate action really benefits vulnerable communities. The message we want to convey is that climate change has very concrete health consequences. The IPCC, for example, is well aware of this.

But these health consequences mainly affect people who are already vulnerable, and who see their vulnerability increase with global warming. It’s a form of double punishment for these communities. Our concern is that humanitarian and health issues are not sidelined from the debate and that their voices are not forgotten.

The devastating floods that struck Pakistan at the end of the summer were a reminder that, in addition to the human toll of the disaster itself, there is a second toll from water-borne diseases...

That’s correct. I have not personally worked on the situation in Pakistan, but MSF has conducted field missions in Africa. In Niger and Sudan, there have been catastrophic floods. And what we see is that these disasters – or even a prolonged wet season due to climate change – change how water-related diseases are distributed. This is something that we need to be able to anticipate to reduce risks, and to be as prepared as possible to meet medical and humanitarian needs.

Could you give an example of the links between water and epidemics?

Climate change in some regions is leading to a rise in temperatures, rainfall and humidity, which will impact mosquito breeding. For example, in Mozambique, these environmental parameters are changing, resulting in longer malaria seasons, especially due to the increase in water stagnation. In other contexts, changes in rainfall patterns are one of the factors that can affect agricultural production and worsen food insecurity.

In Mozambique, the malaria season is lasting longer because of the changes in rainfall pattern, which are likely influenced by climate change. Of course, with respect to mosquito-borne vector-borne diseases, there is a clear link between the increase in stagnant water sources and the proliferation of mosquitoes.

But the links between water and disease are multifactorial. When rain finally came to Mozambique, the ground couldn't soak it up, and so the water ran off, causing an influx and further worsening a complicated situation. Climate change is one of the factors that can exacerbate food insecurity, but these are multifactorial problems.

There can be three types of health consequences from a climate disaster:

  • First, the toll – the number of deaths or injuries – directly related to an extreme event, drought or flood.

  • Then, there are indirect effects, for example malnutrition that may result from a change in the ecosystem,

  • Finally, climate change will exacerbate pre-existing social situations, conflicts and poverty. It’s cumulative.

The question of financing – that of adaptation, but also of “loss and damage” – will be a live issue at Cop27. What is MSF’s view on this issue?

The international community is becoming aware of the magnitude of the needs. It must be emphasised that limiting ourselves to humanitarian aid alone, in the face of climate disasters, would clearly be inadequate, given the colossal needs. Humanitarian aid, adaptation funding and loss and damage have three very different functions.

International funding mechanisms must also cover health, and above all be able to reach vulnerable populations. Currently, this is not the case. And we should not expect humanitarian aid to alleviate the problem: it is insufficient for that.

Don't humanitarian activities also emit greenhouse gases?

Absolutely, and MSF has begun a process to address this issue. Our objective, in line with the Paris agreement, is to reduce our carbon footprint by 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019. We will soon unveil a roadmap on this subject. We feel a moral obligation to do so, it is a question of consistency.

This article was originally published in French in It has been adapted and translated into English by Geneva Solutions.

Articles translated from third party websites are not licensed under Creative Commons and cannot be republished without the media’s consent.