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Covid and climate cause ‘unprecedented humanitarian needs’

Vaccination efforts carry on in the Brazilian town of Anama, in the Amazonas, where communities experienced unusual rainfall in May 2021. Worsening extreme weather events due to climate change have hampered efforts to fight off the Covid pandemic world wide. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Edmar Barros)

The world is being dealt a double blow by climate change and the Covid crisis, causing “unprecedented humanitarian needs,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned on Thursday. According to its newest data, the colliding crises have affected at least 139 million people worldwide and killed 17,000.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected livelihoods across the world and has made communities more vulnerable to climate risks,” Francesco Rocca, president of the IFRC, told reporters at a press briefing.

While the pandemic raged on, droughts in Afghanistan, floods in Europe and hurricanes in Latin America have destroyed the livelihoods of many, leaving them without homes, food or access to health services. Between March 2020 and August 2021, there were at least 433 weather disasters, according to the findings.

“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and hitting everyone, but the most vulnerable are paying the highest price,” said Rocca.

Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions slowed down the global economy, pushing already fragile populations closer to the brink of poverty. In places where extreme weather events had left people without access to food or clean water, the financial hardships caused by the pandemic exposed them even more to hunger and disease.

The report comes as world leaders get ready to meet next week at the UN high-level meeting in New York and less than two months before the COP26 climate summit in November, where countries will discuss global challenges and how to address the climate crisis.

Rich countries have made promises to support poorer nations in their struggle with the climate emergency as well as the pandemic, but they’ve so far failed to deliver. A pledge to mobilise $100bn per year to help developing countries face the challenges of rising temperatures made 12 years ago still remains unfulfilled.

Despite political discourse pointing to the need for a green recovery from the pandemic, only a small portion of the money spent on Covid relief has so far gone to climate-friendly measures.

“Governments need to commit to investing in community adaptation and anticipation systems, and these systems must be funded and implemented at the local community level,” Rocca said.

Unequal vaccine distribution and insufficient efforts from well-off countries to provide financial support for the WHO-backed Covax has also drawn criticism. While Europe has fully vaccinated over 70 per cent of its adult population, in Africa, less than 3 per cent have received their jabs.

“It is extremely frustrating when we talk about vaccine equity,” Rocca said, noting that it was “unfair” that wealthy countries were already considering administering third “booster” shots to their populations when poor populations in some countries had had access to none.

Ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive patent rights on Covid vaccines, as well as discussions with pharmaceutical companies, were key to open up access to poorer populations, he said.