Climate Crisis Threatens Countries Still Reeling from COVID-19
World Health Assembly discusses resolution on preparing for the next pandemic and emergency situations on May 23.

The messiness of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the growing challenge of climate change emerged as key challenges at the World Health Assembly (WHA) on Tuesday in discussions on resolutions on preparing for future pandemics in Geneva. 

Representing 47 countries in the African region, Tanzania underscored the importance of greater equity and access to technology as countries battle multiple emergencies concurrently. 

While conflict in several African countries remains an ongoing issue, climate change has worsened droughts and floods, increasing pressures on fragile health systems, the country pointed out. Tanzania stressed that even though COVID-19 is no longer an official global health emergency, many African countries are still recovering and progress has been slow. 

A small island nation, Bahamas also told the assembly that it was facing multiple challenges concurrently, with climate change posing a particular problem. 

Bangladesh, currently being battered by climate change and is at the forefront of climate adaptation, highlighted the need for public-private partnerships as various solutions are explored. 

Speaking on behalf of all countries in Southeast Asia, Bangladesh said, “Southeast Asia is of the view that during pandemics and public health emergencies, the health of the people should prevail and be prioritized over commercial interests.”

However, the needs across WHO member states are often vastly different. Bahrain, on the other hand, pointed out that it is dealing with  an influx of migrants due to conflicts in the region. 

Finland, which in recent years had adopted a feminist foreign policy approach, pointed out to the disproportionate impact on women and girls in any disaster and focussed on the need to pay attention to that. 

“Finland considers it important that people living in conflict situations in particular, women and girls and persons with disabilities are put at the center of the roadmap. They are often the ones hit the hardest in conflict situations,” the country said. 

The overwhelming majority of the countries taking part at the WHA agreed that there is a need to strengthen WHO’s presence in their region by investing in more staff at both regional and national levels. 

In the context of pandemic preparedness, Germany rued Taiwan’s exclusion from the Assembly despite the island seeking an observer status. 

“Not only, but especially in health emergencies, we must not leave any blind spots on the map and ensure inclusivity. Therefore, we also have to take into consideration and use the experience of all parties and all partners including Taiwan,” Germany said.

China, at whose behest Taiwan was excluded, promised the assembly its full cooperation and financial support in its work. 

“The Chinese government is willing to further provide the necessary human technological and financial support to who knows operations in the global health emergency response,” the country said.  

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged countries to play an active role in negotiating future pandemic preparedness, and across regions countries engaged bringing in diverse perspectives. 

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