Experts need to start focusing on the link between population growth and climate change, an ongoing forum has heard. Stakeholders at the ongoing regional workshop on health and climate change in Lilongwe, Malawi have been urged to seriously look beyond the infectious, communicable diseases and begin to see the bigger symbiotic relationship between population growth and climate change.
According to Prof Sosten Chiwotha, the Executive Director of Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) for Southern and Eastern Africa, environmental degradation creates vulnerability to climate change and this degradation comes because of population growth.
He further said environmental degradation brings in two extremes- excessive rainfall and drought.
Excessive rainfall he explained, subjects land to flooding and makes people who rely on surface water like rivers and wetlands to have problems because the water which they would have used, may have run off because of environmental degradation.
“When you have high population growth, it means people settle in areas that are fragile because in normal places they cannot settle or grow crops because they are already occupied. This therefore means that whenever there is extreme weather like flush floods, it is in those fragile areas where people stay because of high population growth and urbanisation leading to exposure to disasters.
“ People must be empowered to begin seeing the interconnectedness of population, environment and health in development. This is what will fully bring in resilience,” Chiwotha said.
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Youth and Women participation
He further said voluntary family planning is one of the strategies that need to be in place in adaptation to climate change drive. He said if people decide to choose when to have children, they will be able to do other things like growing crops and trees.
"When we have floods, we find that some clinics are washed away, and the women are the worst affected in such situation... For your information, it is evident that the demand for voluntary family planning is higher than the services rendered which means that most people have already embraced the concept," he said.
The workshop is taking place under the USAID-funded Building Capacity for Integrated Family Planning/Reproductive Health and Population, Environment and Development Action (BUILD) project which has drawn together its consortium members like African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, the LEAD, FHI360, and Path Foundation of Philippines.
Dr Eliya Zulu, the Executive Director of AFIDEP called on partners to put in enough resources into health research, innovation and integrated approaches that would inform a nexus programming to the effects of climate change.
“Time has come for Africa to set its priorities right and drive formal discussions that are critical this time when the continent has been hit hard by the cyclone Freddy and other incidents not only in Malawi but also in other African countries."
Dr Zulu said it is important to build political momentum on the global climate change diplomacy and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations to build evidence and arguments that will support Africa’s agenda to reshape health preparedness and responsiveness to climate change effects.
Zulu urged participants to use evidence-based information in mitigating the impact of climate change on health in the light of population growth.
AFIDEP is an African-led, regional non-profit research policy institute established in 2010 to help bridge the gaps between research, policy and practice in development efforts in Africa.