Pandemic and disaster preparedness: AMR, climate change, global hunger imminent
With the ocean hit by the greatest heatwave in recent times and climate change measures at a record high, the world should prepare for impact.
Pandemics are usually oversight. At first sight, many handles it with kid gloves – until its tentacles spread all around. When Ebola first emerged from Sub-Saharan Africa, it sounds folkloric – with many taking passion to read stories as usual, and then sleep over them. Can you be more secure going to bed with your doors and windows opened? Many answers would not be in the affirmative, I guess! Alas, many woke up to the realities of Ebola, as the sound of inevitability, enveloped the skies of West African cities, as many faces turned blue.
As usual again, this took a turn also with COVID-19. We worry far less over critical issues. It is about to happen again – the sound of war drums is gradually gathering – and some are already hearing it. Even birds prepare for the impact of hunger. Towards the end of summer, birds gather in their hundreds to thousands, to test their flight prowess. How much more humans?
As we ceaselessly continue the race to end COVID-19 amidst the global economic downturn, other issues of global concern, which need urgent attention, lurk around, gradually evolving, and waiting for the right time to strike. Most of these problems as we may know, emanate from human activities, and are existential in nature – Anti-microbial Resistant infection (AMR), climate change, and hunger, top the list.
What accelerates the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial-resistant organisms are organisms found in humans, animals, plants, food, air, soil, and water, which develop resistance against noticeable external chemicals like antibiotics, insecticides, and fungicides. Antimicrobial-resistant organisms occur naturally over time, in most cases through genetic mutations. They can spread from person to person or between people and animals or vice-visa(zoonosis), including from food of animals.
The main drivers of antimicrobial resistance include the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials; lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene for both humans and animals; poor infection and disease prevention and control in healthcare facilities and farms; poor access to quality, affordable medicines, vaccines and diagnostics; lack of awareness and knowledge; and lack of enforcement of legislation.
According to a United Nations report, a staggering figure of 10 million people will die from this infection come 2050. The report also stated that AMR could force 24 million people into poverty by 2030. World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. Antimicrobial resistance organisms (AMR) threaten the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi.
AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness, and death. As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spreading to others.
AMR is an existential risk when an overdose of antimicrobial enters a chicken, part of it cures the chicken, and the rest is stored as residues in eggs and chicken meat. The same applies to farmed fish. When man consumes eggs and chicken, the antimicrobials are stored in human systems. The more eggs and chicken meat man consume, the more the antimicrobials. It gets to a point a condition known as AMR – infection occurs, where diseases remain uncurable when humans fall sick due to excess antimicrobials that continually repel other treatments.
Apparently, this leads to a prolonged illness or instant death. This also applies to the animal population. Once an infectious organism in animal cells becomes resistant to treatment – it automatically becomes an AMR organism.
Eggs are produced in billions to feed the human ever-growing population. Imagine the number of people that would be affected if the AMR mitigation plan is not taken seriously with effect immediately. Imagine the AMR disease spread among animal and plant populations.
Similarly, an environment infected due to AMR (air, water, and soil) becomes a critical health issue for all life forms. Hardly will anything survive on a planet where there is no remedy for AMR infection.
Tackling AMR requires multisectoral coordination and sector-specific responses. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has initiated a global framework for the response by establishing a tripartite response action.
The tripartite action response is made up of the trio of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which leads the global human health sector response to AMR, working with countries as they prioritize, implement and evaluate their interventions, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The response of WHO to AMR is based on four strategic priority areas that require urgent attention. Each is aligned with the organization’s core mandate and functions and places public health at its center.
The priority areas incorporate the essential components of the AMR response at global, regional, and country levels, while also generating the evidence base for coordinated actions. Namely: Stepping up leadership for the AMR response, driving public health impact in every country to address it, research and development for better access to quality AMR prevention and care, and monitoring the AMR burden and global response to it.
Nevertheless, there is still a growing concern for AMR among human, animal, and plant populations as a response is sluggish.
Although, this topic has almost saturated the entire globe, nevertheless, climate change response has not recorded much attention. This explains the recent increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean acidification, ocean temperature rise, and heat waves which left many people dead recently in some parts of the world, where climate action is already taking place.
How climate change is accelerated
Climate change drivers are greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and soil degradation. The most menacing greenhouse gas is carbon. When carbon from fossil fuel burning emits into the atmosphere, it reaches the troposphere and obstructs the free flow of atmospheric oxygen, chlorine, and fluorine which naturally cools the earth. The interference generates intense heat, and this happens many times over. In between the troposphere and the biosphere is the earth’s protective casing known as the ozone layer. This layer protects the earth from radiation from the sun.
At the moment, the ozone layer is depleting due to excessive heat above and under the layer. Like carbon, methane from factory farms equally interferes with atmospheric gases, which in turn generate intense heat. According to the most recent data from the top five countries that have produced the most CO2 from 1975 to 2020 the United States, China, Russia, Germany, and the U.K. (Global Carbon Project, 2021.).
What is climate change existential risk measure?
Between 2011 and 2020, the earth’s temperature increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius and was recorded as the warmest since the 1800s. The consequences of global warming which we now experience include among others, water scarcity, severe fires, intense droughts, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, declining biodiversity, and catastrophic storms. All of these have left behind various degrees of devastation.
In fact, the ocean is now feeling the impact of global warming and this might affect the blue economy on a larger scale. Like the trees, the ocean is another carbon sink accounting for over 75 per cent of the earth’s oxygen. How possible can this be? Phytoplankton and algae under ocean beds and other aquatic plants are responsible for this – which is quite a natural phenomenon.
Phytoplankton is microscopic organisms. Through photosynthesis – like terrestrial plants – phytoplankton use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71 per cent of the earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton is responsible for producing up to 80 per cent of the oxygen we breathe. (eos.org, 2017). With the recent ocean heatwave, there is a high-risk potential for aquatic life as the excessive heat might likely generate excessive nutrients from phytoplankton and this might impair ocean water and oxygen quality.
Where do we go from here?
Many climate change actions can boost economic growth while improving our lives and protecting the environment. We also have global frameworks and agreements to guide progress, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement on Sustainable Development Goals. Three major arms of action are: cutting emissions, adapting to climate impacts and financing required adjustments.
Ditching energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables like solar or wind will reduce the emissions driving climate change. Reforestation and preserving the forest, including mangrove areas are both long-term goals that will always sink carbon. But we have to start right now. While a growing coalition of countries is committing to net zero emissions by 2050, about half of emissions reductions achieved by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. Fossil fuel production must reduce by roughly below 6 percent per year between 2022 and 2030.
Amb. Joseph Odika, a climate and food Justice advocate writes from Ibadan, Nigeria.