Health, a fossil fuel-free future, and reparations for loss and damage must be at the frontline of an equitable climate action – this is the resounding call of the health community from South East Asia to Member States and convenors of the 27th UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP27) happening in Egypt this November, whose patients and surrounding communities are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.
In fact, from raw material extraction, transportation, to production and contamination of water sources due to waste disposal, to the irreversible damage done to natural resources and displacement of families in coal communities in South East Asia, the entire lifecycle of fossil fuels is awashed with harmful environmental and health impacts.
“We are living in a moment in which the twin crises of fossil fuel-driven climate change and the outbreak of diseases have merged. Their link exacerbates ecological deterioration and health issues, building on one another, becoming increasingly damaging to the very fabric of our society. That is why, in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the impacts of climate change are not only real but intensifying.” said Dr. H. Suherman, MKM of the RISE Southeast Asia Alliance for Health and Climate in Indonesia.
In Singapore, they are experiencing a dengue crisis, with morbidity count reaching 5,000 more cases than in 2021. Even more alarming is that this number is just within the first half of 2022 alone, before Singapore’s usual peak dengue season. Experts have identified extreme weather changes, like prolonged heat waves and increased rainfall are responsible for this incidence as these changes help spread both the vector mosquitos and the dengue virus. The Philippines and Indonesia continue to be ravaged with typhoons and flash floods, affecting the nations’ different regions, wiping out communities and taking lives with every hit. In Malaysia, urban residents are taken aback by widespread flooding despite infrequent monsoons, and those who are impacted by these flood events are still suffering trauma and braced themselves as Typhoon Noru affected their neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam in September this year just a few months before COP27. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s four-year drought finally came to an end but was met with an intense rainfall that forced 1,700 families to evacuate, killed 20 people and impacted the lives of at least 70,000 households.
Dr. Madihah Ahmad Puaad, Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health in Malaysia strongly expressed that, “when we talk about climate justice and health equity, it means rebuilding a world where no one is left behind. The crisis of climate change has affected vulnerable populations around the world, caused so many deaths, gave rise to diseases and impacted livelihood and people’s safety. Therefore, if resources and funding mechanisms to help capacitate vulnerable countries like those in South East Asia are not tackled in this year’s COP, then there will still be no justice.”
Furthermore, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Southeast Asia’s Regional Climate and Health Program Manager, Jit Sohal adds that, “the health impacts of climate change do not recognize demographics and level of resilience. Vulnerable sectors like children, women, LGBTIQ, and low-income and other disadvantaged populations experience disproportionate health costs of climate change.”
Health is a human right. And climate change is a public health issue. Making the case at COP27 for urgent action on climate change to protect the health of communities in South East Asia and beyond is urgent as ever. In this light, here are the 4-point recommendations of the South East Asia health community at COP27:
● On Mitigation, we call on all member states to commit to developing low-carbon and sustainable health systems, through a just energy transition towards a healthy fossil fuel-free world. Member states must also honor their commitment at Glasgow and strengthen their emission reduction targets in order to put the world on a path to net zero, with developed countries taking the lead in phasing out all fossil fuels following the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. In addition, technical and financial support should be provided to developing countries to facilitate this transition.
- On Adaptation, we call on member states to commit to and prioritize building climate-resilient health systems that ensure the provision of health services, particularly on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), in times of shocks and disasters. Sustainable, accessible, and resilient health systems that serve the specific SRH needs of all women and girls and gender diverse people, whether for contraception, antenatal care, safe abortion, are needed that are required to fulfil the right to health and to build adaptive capacity and strengthen resilience to direct and indirect climate impacts. To achieve this, member states should conduct a national-level health vulnerability and adaptation assessment as well as develop a Health National Adaptation Plan (HNAP) informed by the results of the said assessment. We call on South East Asian countries to fast track the development and submission of their NAPs and ensure that health adaptation strategies as well as adaptation strategies for future pandemic preparedness are integrated in these plans.
- On Loss and Damage, we call on member states and the COP27 Presidency to ensure that loss and damage is a dedicated agenda item at future COPs and to secure the operationalization of the Santiago Network, ensuring that it is responsive to the demands, needs, and experiences of vulnerable communities and developing countries. In particular, technical assistance to enable countries to develop systems to measure and monitor losses and damages including those related to health should also be prioritized.
- On Financing, we call on member states and the COP27 Presidency to ensure prioritization of an increase in climate financing grants - not loans - for countries in the Global South, particularly vulnerable least developed countries (LDCs) and small islands developing states (SIDS). In addition, a balance of financial support for mitigation with that for adaptation should be achieved; financing for adaptation and resilience should at least be 50% and interventions with health co-benefits should be prioritized.
“The call for a future, free from extractive, polluting and harmful fossil fuels is driving the healthcare climate action agenda in South East Asia. Our role as healthcare workers therefore is to bolster this plan of action by advocating for health to be integrated in all climate policies and vice versa. Finally, and importantly, that the COP26 Health Program commitments of Indonesia and Laos PDR be fulfilled and inspire a wave of state supported health care climate action across other countries in the region.” outlined by Dr. Esperanza Cabral, former Philippine health minister. ###
Pats Oliva – firstname.lastname@example.org
Communications Manager, HCWH SE Asia