Addressing the twin crises that face us all

Commemorating World Humanitarian Day 2021

by Hellen Nyangoya, Child Protection Manager
UNICEF South Africa/2015/Schermbrucker
19 August 2021

Everybody agrees that COVID-19 has borne an unprecedented new normal that everyone has had to contend with. Stronger calls were made by world leaders for nations to unite to fight this global pandemic, and for people to take individual responsibility to stop the spread of the virus, even as efforts are made to have as many people as possible vaccinated, and we mourn our dead.

World Humanitarian Day (WHD), which is commemorated every August 19th, was originally designated in memory of 22 humanitarian workers who died in a bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq on that very day in 2003.  In 2009, the day was formalized by the United Nations General Assembly as an international day dedicated to recognize humanitarian workers and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the course of duty. As we commemorate the 2021 World Humanitarian Day, we are reminded of the sad reality; that millions of humanitarian workers continue to be in the front-line of the COVID1-19 fight, against all odds – to provide the much-needed lifesaving support.

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 invaded the human space, a pre-existing crisis, that of climate change, was already causing havoc in the lives of many, in poor and developed countries. We were already dealing with flooding, typhoons, forest fires, drought, famine resulting from unpredictable rain patterns, swelling lakes, all which either led to loss of human and other lives, diseases, destruction of property as well as damage to infrastructure and negating of economic gains made in respective countries.

And therefore the twin crises - COVID-19 and Climate Change- have killed and destroyed in droves, and a lot of time, even when natural disasters knock, humanitarian workers remain in the front-line to save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has no boundaries, and nor does climate change.

Yet, even here, women and children tend to suffer most when the twin crises strike, sometimes concurrently. The financial muscle lies with men in a lot of societies. Women in some communities have to do a lot more work to ensure their children eat. Some have, in the process, exposed themselves to more danger, including sexual abuse while they walk long distances to watering points, or illiteracy, as they would rather forgo school and be in the fields searching for food.

This WHD, we are reminded of the consequences of climate change, especially on the world’s most vulnerable people in our societies, and who are yet to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19. We continue to hold on to the long road – the Agenda 2030 and the promises of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

A new UN Report published recently by the appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) elaborates how human actions have already severely impacted the climate; how we have already released too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that temperatures are rising and will be up by 1.1 degrees Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit). The report indicates that consequences of such will be dire and will worsen overtime, and we are running out of options as we are reminded of SDG 13 which calls for urgent action to combat climate change.

What can we all learn from the recently concluded 2020 summer Olympic Games in Japan? What if we were all Olympians applying the values of Olympism - excellence, friendship and respect, in our daily lives towards a common goal – to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions?

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai once said: “We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves”.

As we commemorate this WHD, even as we appeal to our government and other institutions to act, let us also individually commit to doing something with the resources within our reach locally. This can be in the form of proper waste management, ending the cutting of trees, stopping water pollution and protecting all flora and fauna. Let us attempt to use clean energy to minimize pollutant emissions, plant drought resistant crops to tackle hunger, as well as accept alternative food crops that can adapt to unpredictable rain patterns.

You and I have a role to play. Let us do something that will mitigate the effects of climate change and COVID-19 and render us more peaceful and responsible than we already are. There is still a window in which we can save our humanitarian workers and save our planet.