World Earth Day: The cost of the climate crisis on health - Doctors of the World

World Earth Day: The cost of the climate crisis on health


The climate crisis is a health crisis: why we must act now


The climate crisis is increasingly becoming a major cause of humanitarian crises worldwide. The impact of climate change on people’s health is also becoming increasingly evident. To achieve long term solutions, we must address the root causes of global warming.

In February 2023, Hurricane Freddy hit Madagascar and caused devastating damage. It was not the first time that powerful storms had hit the African island. A year ago, two cyclones had already claimed more than 100 lives and left 150,000 people homeless. Many people in Madagascar were still struggling with the aftermath of previous storms when Hurricane Freddy hit the island.

Researchers explain the increase in cyclones as one of the many effects of climate change: due to climate change, seawater is warming, which can lead to more intense cyclones.

This is just one example of the increasing frequency of natural disasters worldwide and the resulting consequences. Due to ongoing global warming, the need for humanitarian aid has increased by 800% in the last 20 years, according to a report by Oxfam. Yet the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are unevenly distributed. Countries in the Global South suffer the most from the effects of the climate crisis due to their geographic location but also due to limited financial resources. According to the new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), regions in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and small islands in Antarctica are the most affected. At the same time, they contribute the least to the global climate catastrophe.

Climate crisis and environmental degradation aggravate the humanitarian situation in the affected regions and, at the same time, have a direct impact on human health. Extreme weather events and changes, as well as air and water pollution, lead to injuries and diseases, shortages of clean drinking water, and food shortages. Life-threatening diseases such as cholera increase as a result. Droughts, water shortages and food crises, in turn, can exacerbate political conflicts and fuel wars.

For example, Doctors of the World, together with our Ethiopian partner OWDA and with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, has been working in the Somali region affected by drought and conflict since 2020. Everyday we treat malnourished women and children, see animals dying on the roadsides and feel the tension caused by the water shortage. Due to their poor health caused by malnutrition, we even lost pregnant patients last year.

Global warming and its impact on health is an increasingly threatening reality since the climate crisis is not only an environmental crisis but also a health crisis. Because even if the Paris climate agreement is adhered to, millions of people will continue to suffer from its effects. That’s why we call for immediate, effective and socially just efforts to combat climate change. At the same time, it is crucial to better prepare and protect particularly affected groups from the impacts of climate change and also to provide sufficient financial resources for this purpose