A Letter from Dr. Africa Stewart
At Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the connection between healthy people and a healthy planet is clear. Our teams around the world are already treating people suffering from the health impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. That’s why we say that the climate crisis is a public health crisis.
For decades we’ve provided medical humanitarian aid in the wake of extreme weather and natural disasters—including floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves, and more. We’ve honed our methods to respond quickly when disaster strikes, often positioning supplies and personnel in strategic locations ahead of a grim weather forecast. Now we know that climate change is likely to intensify the scale and frequency of extreme weather events.
Environmental crises also deepen existing challenges from forced migration to food insecurity. I recently returned from a visit to Nairobi, Kenya, where I had a chance to catch up with colleagues managing our medical projects across the border in neighboring Somalia. They described a country facing one of its worst droughts in decades, with an unprecedented four failed rainy seasons in a row and a fifth one forecasted later this year. Desert locusts, which thrive in hot and dry conditions, have also swept across the region in recent years, devouring food crops and pasture. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, hoping to find water and food and some way to make a living.
Our teams are seeing alarming levels of malnutrition at our projects, especially among children. In the city of Baidoa, in southern Somalia, MSF cared for 9,000 malnourished children from January to July. Malnutrition is dangerous on its own, but it also weakens the immune system and makes children more susceptible to diseases like measles and cholera, putting their health at greater risk.
And it’s not just Somalia. Our teams work in some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather, from Haiti to Mozambique to Pakistan. MSF teams are currently mounting an emergency response in Pakistan after catastrophic floods left one-third of the country under water.
While multiple factors compounded this disaster, initial scientific analysis points to climate change as a likely driver behind the record-breaking monsoon rainfall this year. Our teams are on the ground providing primary health care, safe drinking water, and essential supplies. We are treating growing numbers of people for diarrheal diseases, malaria, and dengue—linked to too little clean water, as well as too much stagnant water that serves as a breeding ground for disease-spreading mosquitoes.
Complex crises require new thinking and innovation, which is why we’re dedicating this issue of Alert to our work on planetary health. In these pages you’ll learn about how we’re adapting operations around the world in response to the climate emergency, while also working to reduce the environmental impacts of our work at our medical humanitarian projects and at headquarters.
We recognize the need to make real changes to help avoid an even greater crisis. In December 2021, MSF set a movement-wide target pledging to cut our carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030. This puts MSF in line with the ambitious goals set by the Paris Agreement on climate to limit global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Our work isn’t just about responding to health problems when they arise, it’s also about preventing harm and suffering. As always, thank you for supporting our work as we keep evolving to meet the world’s most urgent humanitarian needs, now and in the future.
Dr. Africa Stewart
President, MSF-USA Board of Directors