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Mobile clinic in Ranobe

Climate emergency

Madagascar 2021 © Solen Mourlon/MSF
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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams work in many of the places most vulnerable to climate change. We see how environmental changes impact human health. We know that the most vulnerable people will be the most affected—and we’re already treating them in our clinics and hospitals. 

The climate crisis is a public health crisis.

MSF responds to urgent health needs due to conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and displacement. The climate emergency is aggravating some of these humanitarian crises and their health consequences, with devastating impacts on people who already face multiple threats. The people most affected by climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions causing the problem.

As a medical humanitarian organization, we focus on responding to immediate health needs while preparing for future emergencies. Scientific evidence shows that human-induced climate change has already caused adverse impacts affecting people and nature, and that further global warming is very likely to multiply the dangers. Climate scientists predict rising temperatures and sea levels, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. MSF teams are reaching out to help people who are most at risk, while also working to reduce the environmental impacts of our own aid efforts.

What are the health impacts of climate change?

Some of the consequences of climate changefloods, drought, severe stormsare not new problems. But the climate emergency is causing an intensification of these events, both in severity and frequency. MSF has decades of experience providing medical aid in the aftermath of extreme weather events, and we anticipate that such disasters will get worse in the years to come.

Venezuela: How studying mosquito behavior help bring down malaria in Sucre state

MSF biologist Melfran Herrera collects mosquito larvae in an effort to curb malaria in northeastern Sucre state.

Venezuela 2021 © Matias Delacroix

Malaria and dengue fever

In some places where we work, increased rains appear to be contributing to increased cases of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. (Vectors are living organisms that can transmit disease, including mosquitoes, ticks, and flies.) In Angumu health zone, Democratic Republic of Congo, malaria is the main cause of death among children under five. In recent years, our teams have observed a trend of heavy rains along with high number of malaria patients in the area. In 2018 and 2019 in Honduras, a climate hotspot, we responded to the country’s worst outbreak of dengue fever in 50 years, following a prolonged rainy season.

An MSF staff member measures the size of a child's arm in Madagascar, during a period of severe malnutrition.


Drought and floods are already having an impact on malnutrition in some of the places where MSF works. In Niamey, Niger, our teams have treated an increased number of people with malnutrition over the past two years, as heavy rains and flooding wiped out crops. In the desert regions of southern Madagascar, teams are responding to malnutrition made worse by three consecutive years of drought that severely affected harvests and access to food. (People in Madagascar were also hit hard by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to rising unemployment and loss of income needed to purchase food and other essentials.)

Diffa: recent attack in Nguigmi village

People survey the burnt-out remains of buildings and shelters following violence in the town of Nguigmi in the Sahel region.

Niger 2019 © Souleymane Ba/MSF

Violence and conflict

Across the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, climate change is contributing to shortages of water and land available to livestock herders and farmers. Competition over scarce resources and the inability of authorities to negotiate agreements on land access have led to escalating conflict in countries including Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. These disputes are adding to violence and insecurity, forcing many people to flee their homes. MSF teams are providing medical aid to people affected by climate change, environmental degradation, and conflict.   

Impact of hurricanes Eta and Lota

A woman walks past the ruins of shelters destroyed by hurricanes Eta and Iota. The storms displaced tens of thousands of people.

Honduras 2020 © MSF/Deiby Yanes

Refugees and people on the move

Climate change is increasingly driving migration as some places become uninhabitable. Millions of people are already on the move, and the extreme conditions that push mass displacement will likely be exacerbated by climate change. In 2020, our teams provided medical care to people in Honduras who were displaced by Hurricanes Eta and Iota—back to back storms that were the worst to hit Central America in more than two decades. According to researchers, the hurricanes "bore the hallmarks of climate-driven storms."

Alert Fall 2022: Climate emergency

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What are we doing to cut carbon emissions and promote environmental sustainability?

MSF is taking steps as a global movement to address the climate emergency. Our humanitarian activities can be carbon-intensive—especially when we consider the impact of air travel to far-flung places affected by war and natural disasters. So reducing our carbon footprint presents many challenges. However, we recognize our contribution to human-caused environmental disruption and our ethical obligation to "first, do no harm" to people and the planet.

Reaping the rewards of recycling in Harare

An MSF team member talks with community members in Mbare about recently installed composters that will turn biowaste into fertilizer.

Zimbabwe 2022 © Manzongo John/MSF

Reducing our carbon footprint

In late 2020, MSF's international governing bodies adopted an Environmental Pact, which recognized our own contributions to climate change and environmental degradation and pledged action to improve our record. In December 2021, we set a movement-wide target to slash our carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. And in March 2022, MSF formally signed on to the Climate and Environment Charter, an initiative led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support greater climate action across the humanitarian sector at large. 

Inside the sterilization room

A sterilization technician washes medical instruments in DHQ hospital in Timergara.

Pakistan 2020 © Khaula Jamil

Avoiding and reducing waste

We are working to ensure an efficient and socially responsible supply chain. That means stepping up efforts 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. Instead, we are switching to ecologically sustainable bags using local resources made by local communities. At many of our projects around the globe, we are working to reduce medical waste in our hospitals and clinics. We are also  exploring options to move away from single-use products where appropriate.

Kigulube project

MSF installed solar panels at the General Hospital of Kigulube in South Kivu.

Democratic Republic of Congo 2019 © Pablo Garrigos/MSF

Solar power

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

Christos Christou Virtual Visit |  Uzbekistan/Tadjikistan

MSF International President Dr Christos Christou meets virtually with the team in Dushanbe.

Tajikistan 2020 © MSF

Reducing air travel

We are making efforts to limit our international travel by air, including by attending meetings or training workshops virtually rather than in person. We are sourcing medical supplies closer to the places where we work. These changes were partly accelerated due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff travel and international freight transport.