Impact of climate change in West Africa and the Sahel

date Published on 04/07/2024

The climate crisis is a health crisis. The effects of climate change, such as rising temperatures, extreme weather, loss of biodiversity and many others, have been widely discussed within the international community. However, the direct impact of environmental change on public health is an emerging field that urgently requires the attention of the international community. In recent years, countries and environmentalists have elevated the debate and drawn global attention to the impact of climate change on health. At COP28, the first "Health Day" set an historic precedent for global climate meetings to include health as a central priority. At the World Health Assembly in Geneva last May, member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a groundbreaking resolution identifying climate change as a major threat to public health and calling for global action to build sustainable, climate-resilient health systems[1].

The WHO resolution recognized several direct health impacts of climate change, including, but not limited to: 

  • Air, chemical, waste and water pollution, increasing the risk and prevalence of disease 
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events and conditions, endangering lives and vital infrastructure 
  • Changes in weather and climate threaten biodiversity and ecosystems, impacting environmental health, food security and nutrition.
  • Increased risk and prevalence of food-borne, water-borne and vector-borne diseases 
  • Aggravation of existing health and gender inequalities, increasing the vulnerability of marginalized communities

These effects are already being felt in communities around the world, as one in four deaths worldwide is attributable to preventable environmental causes.[2]

The hard-won gains of the public health community, from the global to the local levels, including improved health outcomes, mortality & poverty reduction, and universal health coverage are at risk of reversal. Climate change affects the health of every community in different ways, both direct and indirect, but some communities-especially the poorest and most vulnerable-are hit harder and often are less able to adapt. An example of this is that , is the polycrise.

From difficulty to impossibility: ensuring continuity of intervention in the sahel and west africa

Faced with the multifaceted crises in the Sahel and West Africa, ENDA Santé and its partners are calling for a paradigm shift in development approaches. To this end, they are organizing a regional consultation at the Radisson Blu Hotel from July 2 to 4, 2024. The event brings together key players, including development agencies, CSOs and partner institutions.

By fostering collaboration and mobilizing the expertise of those closest to the challenges, this consultation aims to chart a new course for sustainable development in the Sahel and West Africa. The region's environment has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Between political changes, globalization and climate change, the region has experienced rapid growth accompanied by new challenges. The African continent as a whole makes up 17% of the world's population and accounts for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but has suffered around 35% of global mortality from climate-related disasters[3]. These figures highlight the glaring inequality facing the region, making it more important than ever to demand and secure justice for its people.

In this new environment, the "business as usual" development model is no longer sufficient to address the crises in West Africa. A new strategy is needed to redefine the way forward and ensure success for the region and its people.

According to the Notre-Dame Vulnerability Index (a criterion used to assess a country's vulnerability to climate change by considering six key sectors: food, water, health, ecosystem services, human habitat and infrastructure), West African countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change, with Niger, Mali and Guinea-Bissau ranked among the most at-risk countries in the world.[4] Some of the current impacts of climate change on public health in the region include:

  • Displacement and migration is a growing crisis in the region, with recent studies projecting that by 2050, without concrete climate and development action, West Africa could see up to 32.0 million people internally displaced by slow-onset climate impacts such as water stress, declining crop and agricultural productivity, and rising sea levels exacerbated by storm surges. Senegal, in particular, could experience up to 1 million internal climate migrants by 2050, ranking among the highest in terms of the percentage of internal climate migrants relative to its total population. These extreme migratory movements may lead to unprecedented health crises such as the emergence and aggravation of vector-borne diseases, a high risk of conflict and intense pressure on food and health systems.[6]

  • Changing temperatures are impacting the transmission of vector-borne and mosquito-borne diseases in new and unpredictable ways, where the proliferation and seasonality of diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, Rift Valley fever, Zika, and others are evolving. Some regions are seeing an increase in the prevalence and duration of high-risk seasons, with current epidemics of dengue fever in Burkina Faso and malaria in Nigeria.[8]

West Africa must prepare for and adapt to the health impacts of climate change to prevent catastrophic suffering and unnecessary loss of life in the years to come. Local actors are best placed to formulate and lead adaptation efforts, as they best understand the priorities and realities of their own communities. Now is the time to empower local communities to take their future into their own hands, with the resources they need to adapt and build resilience to the health impacts of climate change.

At the Solutions Lab on sustainable strategies to mitigate risks and facilitate the intervention of local actors in polarized situations, Mr. Aliu Djalo, from ENDA Santé Guinée-Bissau and host of CSIH-Guinée-Bissau, shared:

Mr Aliu Djalo, Director of ENDA Santé Guinea-Bissau and host of CSIH WCA-Guinée-Bissau

If we fail to address climate change and its impacts on health now, decades of progress towards improved health outcomes and universal health coverage will be reversed. A health-centered approach to climate action represents a global opportunity to invest in the fundamental human rights to a healthy life. Locally-led adaptation is essential to ensure a prosperous future in West Africa. Community leaders must be empowered to take the reins, as their voices and active involvement must be at the heart of climate change adaptation planning. This will ensure that solutions are contextually relevant, maximally effective and sustainable for generations to come.


[1] https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA77/A77_ACONF7-en.pdf

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/preventing-disease-through-healthy-environments#:~:text=An%20estimated%2012.6%20million%20people,than%20100%20diseases%20and%20injuries

[3]Wanjohi Kabukuru. "UN: Africa, already suffering from warming, will see worse," AP News, March 2, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/climate-change-impacts-africa-f3ce8833ec7620d4d7fbca014981bf63

[4] https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/country-index/rankings/

[5] https://www.ifrc.org/nota-prensa/deadly-heatwave-sahel-and-west-africa-would-have-been-impossible-without-human-caused#:~:text=Climate%20change%20made%20the%20maximum,region%201.4%C2%B0C%20hotter

[6] https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/776881634532602504/pdf/Groundswell-Africa-Deep-Dive-into-Internal-Climate-Migration-in-Senegal.pdf

[7] https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/plant-science/articles/10.3389/fpls.2016.01262/full

[8] https://idpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40249-024-01193-5

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