MSF, Doctors Without Borders, eThekwini, KZN floods

Climate emergency

The health impacts of a changing climate are already a burden for many people in the world, including those we assist.

We work in some of the most climate-vulnerable settings in the world, responding to many of the world’s most urgent crises – conflictnatural disastersdisease outbreaks, and displacement. These are settings where people already lack access to, or are excluded from, basic healthcare. These people are also the least responsible for the emissions that generate climate change. But the climate emergency aggravates some humanitarian crises and their subsequent healthcare consequences, which impact on people in these vulnerable settings the most.

As a medical organisation, it is beyond our field of expertise to define what causes many of the events that we then respond to. And while our teams in some places have noticed changes over the years, existing scientific evidence clearly points out that we will be seeing further rising temperatures and sea levels, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

What are we seeing and doing?

A lot of the consequences of climate change – floods, drought, severe storms – are not new problems. But the climate emergency is causing an intensification of these events, both in severity and frequency. We were already responding to the fallout from these extreme weather events, but we anticipate that they will get worse in the years to come.

Climate change affects all of us

Climate change - or the climate emergency - affects all of us, in direct and indirect ways. It impacts diseases such as malaria and malnutrition, and can contribute to conflict and displacement. The climate crisis is also a health and humanitarian crisis.
MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Madagascar, climate emergency
At a crossroads on the national road, empty jerrycans await the arrival of a tanker truck to provide water for the families in the area. The food hunger season, which usually ends in April, is becoming more critical each year in the desert regions of southern Madagascar. Three consecutive years of drought have severely affected harvests and access to food, in a context now marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to a drop in seasonal employment and other sources of income. From December onwards, violent sand winds also covered part of the arable land and food used during the lean season, such as cactus fruit. As a result, the chronic food and nutrition crisis, known on the island as kéré, is hitting the inhabitants even harder.
Ainga Razafy/MSF

What are we doing to mitigate our impact?

In late 2020, the highest-ranking MSF bodies – including the International Board – signed The Environmental Pact. The pact is a recognition of the environmental impact of our humanitarian duties – which is still essential to carrying out our work – yet is also a commitment to adapt our activities to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Measures to achieve this are now incorporated in all main MSF entities’ strategic or action plans from 2021 onwards, including mechanisms for accountability.

We are working to ensure an efficient and socially responsible supply chain, in order to reduce, reuse and recycle medical materials and equipment. For example, in Uganda, we have launched a project to replace the millions of plastic bags we use each year to distribute medicines, with ecologically sustainable bags using local resources made by local communities. We are also reducing medical waste in our hospitals and clinics, including exploring options to move away from single-use products where appropriate.

We are developing new energy solutions, such as using solar panels to power some of our medical activities, as well as innovative approaches that respond to the environments we work in. For example, in Pakistan, we installed solar panel systems at the facilities we support in Dera Murad Jamali, Chaman, and Kuchlak, all in the country’s Balochistan province. Supplemented by grid or generator electricity, these systems provide uninterrupted power for lighting, air conditioning, fans, and water pumping and cooling.

We are reducing our international travel by air, for example attending meetings or workshops virtually rather than in person. We are also sourcing medical supplies closer to the places where we work. These changes have also accelerated because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international freight and personnel travel.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Climate emergency, flooding in South Sudan
Today, needs are already outstripping the response. This is a crisis of solidarity, and it is now giving way to a crisis of morality. Stephen Cornish, Director General of MSF Switzerland
Access to Healthcare

The triple threat of climate change, conflict, and health emergencies: A deadly mix for the most vulnerable in fragile settings