MSF Luxembourg is committed to fighting climate change over the next 50 years
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), MSF Luxembourg is launching a national multimedia campaign to raise awareness of climate change and its impact on humanitarian action. Half a century’s experience of working with the most vulnerable population groups has made MSF all too aware that environmental issues are a central part of the problems that humanity will face in future, and the organisation is already making serious efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of Planet Earth.
With the slogan ‘We care for people the world over, but will that world always be there…’, this campaign highlights MSF’s determination to help the victims of climate change and the efforts it has made to reduce the environmental impact of its own action on the ground.
The state of human health around the world depends on that of the Earth. The decline in agricultural production and in the nutritional value of foods, limited access to drinking water and the wider spread of diseases are just some of the challenges facing MSF in various projects around the world.
MSF Luxembourg’s aims in conducting this campaign are:
- To raise awareness among the people of Luxembourg of the disastrous impact of the climate emergency on human health, particularly for the most vulnerable population groups;
- To draw attention to the humanitarian impact of climate change, the degradation of the environment and other worldwide health problems that are exacerbating the existing disparities and vulnerabilities;
- To make it clear that the disruption of our natural system is due to human action and that, without urgent mitigation measures on a massive scale, the health and wellbeing of all of us will be severely affected;
- To highlight the role of MSF in helping victims of global heating, and also its desire to reduce its own ecological footprint in order to act more responsibly.
MSF’s commitment to protecting the climate
The climate emergency is already giving rise to numerous medical needs of kinds that MSF exists to respond to, and this will increasingly be the case: malnutrition, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, parasitic diseases (malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus disease), epidemics, diarrhoeal diseases, injuries (caused by storms or by conflicts over control of resources), etc.
In order to take practical measures in response to issues concerning the health of the planet, MSF has incorporated them into its strategic plan for 2020-2023, its prime objective being to reduce its ecological footprint.
As part of the campaign ‘We care for people the world over, but will that world always be there…’, MSF Luxembourg is highlighting four main fields of action. Here are some specific examples of its action on the ground:
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When extreme climate events occur, it is the most vulnerable people that suffer the most.
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The climate crisis is a health and humanitarian crisis
Responding to various kinds of emergency is part of the DNA of Médecins Sans Frontières. For 50 years, we have been answering the call when the most serious humanitarian disasters occurred.
Our substantial logistical resources enable us to launch a response in less than 24 hours anywhere in the world and to deploy doctors, inflatable hospitals and the requisite medical equipment and medicines. Thus we have the human and logistical resources to act as frontline responders to whatever forms the climate emergency may take in future and to the health crises that it will cause.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the mean temperature of the Earth was between 1.1 and 1.3°C higher in 2020 than the reference value for 1850-1900, which made 2020 one of the three hottest years ever recorded on Earth. The data shows that the global temperature was then higher than it had been for a thousand years, which went hand in hand with the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for more than 3 million years.
According to a detailed analysis by the WMO, disasters associated with water were the main type of disaster in the past 50 years, in terms both of loss of human life and economic losses.
‘Weather, climate and water-related hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The human and economic toll was highlighted with tragic effect by the torrential rainfall and devastating flooding and loss of life in central Europe and China in the past week. (…)
No country – developed or developing – is immune. Climate change is here and now.’- WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
Changing patterns of precipitation increase the risk of local flooding, causing direct injury, the spread of infectious diseases and repercussions on mental health. In addition, floods and droughts may potentially lead to enforced migration.
Bangladesh is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change anywhere in the world. There, MSF is providing primary health care and occupational health care services for residents of the shanty town of Kamrangirchar in Dhaka. Many inhabitants have been forcibly displaced after floods polluted their farmland with saltwater. These new arrivals are suffering from injuries and occupational diseases, water-borne diseases and sexual violence, which have been exacerbated by the difficult conditions in which they are living.
Heat waves – prolonged periods of extreme heat and humidity – are associated with increased risks of disease and death, and their frequency and severity are expected to increase because of climate change. The effects of heat waves on health can be direct, such as heat stroke, which is potentially fatal. Excessive heat may also aggravate existing health conditions, such as heart and lung problems, psychiatric illnesses and impairments of kidney function.
The Lake Chilwa basin is one of the regions of Malawi worst affected by climate change. Drought and irregular rainfall are altering the area and depth of Lake Chilwa, the second largest lake in the country. The transmission of cholera is determined by environmental factors and progresses rapidly in those infected, causing watery diarrhoea and vomiting, which bring about serious – and potentially fatal – dehydration.
With the emergence and rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become ever clearer that uncoordinated approaches will not be sufficient to avert risks of epidemics. Similarly, in order to protect people against the disastrous impact of climate change, integrated responses will be required from humanitarian aid organisations, world health actors, governments and communities.
Humanitarian aid workers must listen to local communities and actors, display trust in them and cooperate with them.
Humanitarian aid organisations must also make additional preparations in order to maximise their ability to respond to climate-related disasters. Early warning systems, such as that developed by MSF’s MACA project, are the first stage in this strategy.
If they consistently bear climate issues in mind in their work, humanitarian aid organisations will be in a better position to take action not only during the acute phase of climate-related events but also so as to deal with their further impact, such as displacement of people, food insecurity and diseases.
MSF’s experience in Bangladesh, Niger and Malawi demonstrates the necessity of looking beyond disasters so as to anticipate and respond to their secondary effects.
As climate-related disasters are becoming more frequent and severe, humanitarian aid will become more and more vital. With this in mind, it is crucial that humanitarian organisations and other agencies promoting world health should engage in reflection and act as a matter of urgency to reduce their own contributions to climate change and the ecological crisis.
Each year, the Global Footprint Network calculates the date on which humankind has consumed the whole of Earth’s ecological resources. Its calculations show that, in 2021, if everyone in the world consumed at the same rate as people in Luxembourg do, the date by which all the available resources would have been consumed would be 15 February – placing Luxembourg in the second worst position, behind only Qatar. If the whole world lived in the same way as Luxembourg, 8 Earths would be needed in order to avoid an ecological deficit.
However, people in Luxembourg are particularly aware of climate change and of environmental issues. For instance, 69% of residents of Luxembourg think that members of the public ought to get more involved in combating climate change*.
The success of the movement Youth for Climate since March 2019 also shows that young people in Luxembourg are aware of this problem and that they wish to play an active part in solving it. Their concern is reflected in a general increase in awareness, although people still seem to underestimate the effects of global heating.
Lastly, the floods which unexpectedly beset the country in July 2021 brought it home to all of us, once again, that environmental problems affect us all.
Nobody can enjoy good health on a sick planet. The climate emergency is also a health emergency.
*(Study by Skora Messaoudi and Tommy Klein, TNS Ilres - June 2021)