What are the impacts of climate change and inequality on health?
Climate change has direct impacts on food and nutrition, especially for children, and therefore affects health. Inequality reinforces this impact. Keep in mind that in Africa, 56% of the population does not have access to basic health services. Over 100 million individuals fall into poverty for lack of this minimum access to basic health services. These fragile environments, exacerbated by climate change, create ideal conditions for epidemics, especially in urban areas which are home to a large proportion of the population. Droughts can cause humanitarian crises and major population displacements, which are also conducive to the spread of diseases.
What specific issues exist in the Sahel in terms of climate-driven inequalities?
The Sahel region is already the most vulnerable area in terms of access to water and food. But drought has exacerbated the situation and has had a devastating effect on inequality, particularly between men and women, and caused a number of individuals to fall into extreme poverty. Climate change therefore accelerates all forms of inequality.
In this region, women have historically and culturally been in charge of supplying their families with water. When the situation becomes more difficult, mothers have only one option. They must turn to their daughters for help, requiring them to leave school. All forms of inequality are related, and some types of inequality lead to others. In the Sahel and elsewhere, without strong public action supporting development based on resilience and adaptation, the situation will deteriorate significantly.
How can we respond to inequality toward the economic, humanitarian and climate change crises in the Sahel?
The issue is no longer one of climate alone, since the right to health is a basic public service. Life expectancy in good health in the Sahel is 53 years. First and foremost, climate change adaptation policies must be designed to help the most vulnerable individuals, because climate change does not affect the entire population equally. Communities that depend on the months of rain are severely affected.
Next, if we want to respond to issues of inequality and climate change, we must provide two basic services–healthcare and education, especially education for girls. On a broader level, part of the needed transformation lies in the hands of women, especially for the agricultural model. They are also the first to go without during food shortages.
What can international, national and local institutions do in response to inequality and these new challenges?
Mobilize and earmark funds specifically for the poorest countries and those with the greatest needs. The challenge is to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We must generalize what is already being done, which is nothing extravagant: basic public aid that we know how to establish. Gone are the days of experimental aid. But generalizing systems that work does not mean failing to adapt the responses to the specific contexts. I went to the Lake Chad region and the situation is not the same in northern Chad and southern Niger.
In the Sahel, challenges are accumulating—security issues, the effects of climate change, extreme poverty and the increasing inequalities. This results in a perilous situation, leaving us far from achieving the SDGs, and explains the urgent need for action.
Do you think the Sustainable Development Goals are attainable?
Yes, on paper. The funding and technical and technological solutions exist. It is simply a matter of a political will and common desire to make this a priority. A portion of the security budgets of G7 countries will need to be reallocated to development assistance. Today, only 1% of aid from G7 countries goes to the Sahel. We need to take our share of responsibility, since we have played a substantial role in the deterioration of the situation. Oxfam participated in the Alter G7 and expected world leaders to express their commitment.
Emmanuel Macron did take advantage of G7 to encourage the countries to become more involved in the Sahel. What can we learn from this in practical terms, especially as regards inequality?
The Sahel issue was indeed on the agenda at the G7 and France and Germany made new commitments to strengthen cooperation in security matters within the framework of the G5 Sahel. But I want to stress that the security response in this region is a dead end. However, a portion of the foreign aid budget was dedicated to this response. Inequality is what undermines the Sahel region most: growing inequalities in the Sahel are a lasting poison and a major factor contributing to the destabilization of this area.
The G7 must above all turn speeches on the fight against inequalities into concrete action and tools to respond to the emergency and provide sustainable solutions by addressing the structural causes of the Sahel populations’ vulnerabilities. In order to accomplish this, States, institutions, regional cooperation, donors, contributors to development and international cooperation must work together in a coordinated manner to fight inequality. They must do so by establishing progressive and fair tax policies that reduce income inequalities and generate sufficient funds for implementing inclusive, high-quality social and development policies. We could also mention the fact that a large portion of fossil resources, such as oil in Nigeria, never benefits local communities. Foreign aid in Niger equals three times the country’s fiscal resources, which is not as it should be.
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