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New Africa’s Sustainable Development report urges improved planning to leverage potential of urbanization and address attendant environmental challenges

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The latest report on Africa’s sustainable development urges governments to strengthen their urban planning capacities to manage the potential of the region’s ever-expanding cities and address environmental challenges including climate change, droughts and floods.

The 2018 Africa Sustainable Development Report titled “Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient continent” was launched on Tuesday 4 December during a special event held at the 13th Africa Economic Conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

In one of its key findings, the report indicates that the proportion of Africans (excluding North African) with access to safe water was 23.7 percent, barely one third of the global average of 71 per cent, which is generally low by global standards and characterized by wide disparities between and within countries.

The 2018 ASDR finds that access to electricity in Africa is increasing, albeit at a pace lower than the population growth, and that the continent’s abundant renewable energy potential remains largely untapped.

Africa is the fastest urbanizing region globally, but the potential benefits are not yet fully exploited; Efficiency in energy use is improving but reliance on biomass poses a challenge to progress. Africa outperforms most of the world’s regions in the conservation and sustainable use of its mountain resources.

The report finds that countries such as Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia, which rank high on science and innovation in Africa, invest a relatively higher share of their GDP in research and development than their peers and provide higher incentives for the private sector to carry out research than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

The report is a joint annual publication of the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme – Regional Bureau for Africa (UNDP-RBA).

Speaking on behalf of the various organizations that co-authored the report, various distinguished panellists present at the launch made the following comments.

Victor Harison, AUC Commissioner for Economic Affairs: “There is an urgent need to sustainably manage Africa’s diverse natural resources, including land and water for agriculture, forests, minerals, oil and gas.”

Chidozie Emenuga, Divisional Manger, African Development Institute of the African Development Bank: “This definitive report clearly documents the extant trends, opportunities and challenges facing the continent as it marches towards attainment of its development goals. The Bank’s input in the report aligns with our role as a knowledge partner, fostering the development of our regional member states.”

Adam Elhiraika, ECA Director of the Macroeconomics and Governance Division: “Africa has made progress in the six areas targeted by the report though much more still needs to be done. The report is crucial as it points us in the right direction as we seek to accelerate progress on the SDGs to eradicate poverty, address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies for all by 2030.”

Ayodele Odusola, UNDP Africa Chief Economist and Head of Strategy and Analysis said: “Robust innovation systems that drive urbanization and sanitation require a sound infrastructure that connects the science community and researchers to the private sector and the government. This in turn is vital for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.”

This year, the report cast its focus on five of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation; SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy; SGD 11 – Sustainable cities and communities; SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production; and SDG 15 – Life on Land; and the related objectives contained in Agenda 2063, the African Union’s development framework. The 2018 ASDR also includes a chapter on the role of Science, Technology and Innovation as an important means of implementing Goal 17: Partnership for the goals.

The annual Africa Sustainable Development Report is the only publication that simultaneously tracks the continent’s performance on both agendas using the Continental Results Framework endorsed by the African Union Heads of State and Government.

African Development Bank

NGOs - SDGs

Innovative partnerships needed to tackle climate related disasters

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Drought Image (Supplied)

The devastating crisis in Madagascar sounds a stark warning of the need to take urgent action for Africa according to Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, Director General of the African Risk Capacity Group.

“Drought may well be the next pandemic after COVID-19 and there’s no vaccine to cure it.” If the words of Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction don’t compel us to take immediate action, Africa will continue to bear the scars of barren wastelands caused by climate change-induced drought. Southern Africa, East Africa, the Horn of Africa and now Madagascar are just the start. The short-term solution to building resilience requires a multi-faceted approach involving both private and public sectors, says Diong.

“Our affiliate, ARC Ltd, which recently received a BBB+ Insurer Financial Strength rating from Fitch, works with governments, NGOs and funders to provide customised parametric insurance. This  empowers African governments and NGOs to respond swiftly to natural disasters on the continent, but there’s a lot of work that needs to go into building distribution networks to ensure that we can reach as many people as possible. We need to build a coalition of the private and public sector,” Diong adds.

While governments are key in dealing with resilience to climate change, it’s the ability of the private sector to take action that will make all the difference, he says.

“Partnerships should extend beyond governments. The private sector is an essential partner for leveraging funding and experience demonstrates that private-sector entities are capable of rapidly taking up opportunities when and if these make sense from a business angle.”

There are several examples where a collaborative approach is already working well. Diong cites ARC Group’s partnerships with organisations such as the Start Network and World Food Programme (WFP), and funders such as the German Development Bank, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and African Development Bank which are working to provide that resilience for African countries.

Shifting the disaster risk architecture

Emily Jones, as Climate and Disaster Risk Financing Advisor for WFP, highlights the challenges of convincing authorities to be more proactive than reactive when preventing human suffering and hardship when events like drought occur.

“Unfortunately, no one person or organisation can make the necessary shift alone. Change starts with building resilience and insurance plays a significant role in that, particularly in climate change,” says Jones.

Governments pay a premium every year and receive their agreed-upon pay-out if and when a predicted disaster occurs. “This money can then be used to help those people affected, with the remainder of the pay-out going towards covering other consequences that might not have been expected, such as conflict or a loss of progress in terms of important local development projects,” she says.

“Humanitarians are working on highlighting the need to predict crises and act before they manifest in an effort to avoid human suffering. After all, why wait if you don’t have to?”

Jones speaks about how most authorities in African countries perceive insurance as a gamble when it should rather be seen as a risk management tool. Unfortunately, many simply don’t have the necessary tools available to plan, which is where ARC comes in.

“It’s amazing that ARC Limited is offering this type of insurance. However, insurance is really only cost-effective for catastrophic events that happen infrequently – perhaps once every 10 years – and if the governments that they’re selling the insurance to don’t have other solutions, they’re going to be taking out insurance that’s less than optimal,” Jones explains.

“So, something that WFP, ARC, and the African Development Bank wants to work on in the coming years is a risk-layering approach. This would involve introducing other tools for coping with those medium-scale events so that we can optimise ARC and hopefully offer better products, as well as ensure improved buy-in, a greater understanding of the products’ importance, and a track record of success,” she adds.

Responding swiftly to natural disasters

Since ARC Limited was established in 2014, the company has paid out $65-million in drought-relief efforts to seven different countries.

“In particular, the collaboration between the African Development Bank and ARC shows how coming together makes a major difference. In 2020, the ARC drought-relief pay-outs to Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire totalled $6-million,” says Diong.

Madagascar received a payment of over $2,1-million, which was allocated to food assistance for 15,000 households, nutritional support to 2,000 children and 1,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, and water supplies to over 84,000 households.

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Reaching the most vulnerable, however, is difficult, adds Malvern Chirume, Chief Underwriting Officer ARC Limited.  “One of the big challenges is access to the final customer, bearing in mind that most of our beneficiaries of the programmes are small- to medium-scale farmers and therefore it’s not cost-effective to access them one at a time.” 

With climate change, we can expect extreme weather events to hit harder and more frequently in coming years. In a 1.5 degree warmer world, there is no doubt that drought will be a more regular event.

The GAR Special Report on Drought 2021 launched earlier this year is a call to action: we must act now if we are to meet the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and create a safer, more resilient, risk-proofed future for all.

“Drought is not something that hits us suddenly, nor something that we can quarantine our way out of. Drought manifests over months, years, sometimes decades, and the results are felt just as long. Drought exhibits and exacerbates the social and economic inequalities that are deep-rooted within our systems and hits the most vulnerable the hardest,” says Chirume.

“While we may not be able to prevent it, we can certainly be prepared to deal with its impact by building resilience and providing swift support to those who are left vulnerable.”

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Shifting Africa’s climate change disaster risk architecture before COP26 and beyond

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All eyes are on the existential crisis posed by climate change as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP26) approaches, with many warning that lessons for dealing with climate change threats must be learned from how Africa has handled the current COVID crisis.

Resilience in Africa to these climate change impacts can only be built with the assistance of developed countries and these have a vested long-term interest in providing this support, says Ange Chitate, COO African Risk Capacity Limited.

“Beyond COVID, the most critical risk to Africa is the availability of water, which is directly linked to climate change. The continent is extremely vulnerable to and bears the brunt of drought, flooding, cyclones and other climate change-led weather events, even though it has actually had very little impact on carbon emission,” says Chitate.

This is particularly serious for a continent like Africa which depends so heavily on agriculture for its economy and employment.

“When one considers that agriculture sustains two thirds of Africa’s employment and that more than 80% of agriculture in Africa is conducted by small- to medium-scale farmers who are at the mercy of climate change events completely out of their control, COP26 talks have to deliver practical and meaningful support from developed countries to help ensure a high level of preparedness in the developing world for what is being touted as the next pandemic,” Chitate adds.

It is a view shared by South Africa Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who says if COP26 is to be successful, developing countries need support from developed countries in the form of finance, technology and capacity building.

South Africa’s suggested global goal on adaptation sees focus being placed on “the most vulnerable people and communities; their health and well-being; food and water security; infrastructure and the built environment; and ecosystems and ecosystem services, particularly in Africa, Small Island states and Least Developed Countries”.

Minister Creecy also calls on developed countries to ensure access to long-term, predictable and affordable finance for developing communities.

Building Africa climate change resilience through natural disaster insurance relief

“There’s a responsibility for G7 countries to support Africa in managing the impact of climate change by, for example, providing sovereigns with parametric insurance premium finance to help them respond swiftly and decisively to crises fueled by climate change on the continent,” says Delphine Traoré, ARC Limited Non-Executive Director.

Established in 2014, ARC Limited provides natural disaster insurance relief to African countries which have joined the sovereign risk pool.

Along with its partners, which provide premium support, the insurer has already paid over US$65m to seven countries to provide drought relief and address the economic concerns these countries’ most vulnerable citizens face.

Governments then make payments to the most vulnerable households in drought-stricken or other climate-affected areas so the most vulnerable communities can supplement their food budgets if reduced harvest tends to push up food prices.

“Our role is explaining to African governments the importance of having this type of insurance and accounting for food security and disaster risk in their budgetary work process.

“There’s been a lot of work done by ARC Limited with the support of the African Development Bank and other financial institutions to see how we can support these countries with a super replica programme. We need to do more still to find a sustainable way to do premium financing for countries that are not able to afford it but that are quite impacted by climate change impacts,” says Traoré.

Most recently, ARC Limited paid out US$2.1m to the Madagascar Government to meet the food security needs of over 600,000 people affected by the devastating drought.

ARC Limited’s role as a parametric insurer is critically important in building resilience and ensuring a country is able to bounce back swiftly after a natural disaster.  “We monitor the rainfall of countries in the risk pool and sovereign insurance pay outs are triggered when the system reveals that there hasn’t been enough rain, before droughts get to a crisis stage, farmers are left with nothing and people are starving,” explains Chitate.

The programme further helps countries build capacity to manage climate-related risks. In this way it attempts to shift the disaster risk management architecture to be proactive, not reactive, says Chitate.

“We see a tangential benefit of this type of programme being the increasing sophistication of countries to better understand risk. The current COVID pandemic is a good example of this.

“When dealing with risk mitigation and management, one needs to examine the reason why governments don’t act. On the insurance side, one of the issues to address is around premium affordability because it’s quite expensive to insure against natural disasters and payment of premium competes against other national priorities,” explains Chitate.

Sovereigns which participate in the ARC programme must also develop a contingency plan which sets out at a very high level how the government would spend any insurance pay out they receive from ARC.

“Through this plan, we ensure the funds get to the intended beneficiaries. Having a plan increases dramatically the speed of execution because at a point the government received the funding, it already has a plan on how to disburse this,” she says.

With US$100 million in its kitty, ARC says it probably has the largest balance sheet dedicated to climate risks in Africa.

 

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Health

Agnes Nsofwa: An Auditor turned Registered Nurse and Global Health Advocate

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Agnes Nsofwa is a Registered Nurse and Global Health Advocate. she founded ASCA, a not-for-profit organisation supporting families impacted by sickle cell disease in Australia. Agnes is also the founder of Amplify Sickle Cell Voices International Inc, a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to give a voice to people from emerging economies and lower settlement areas sharing their experiences as sickle cell patients, caregivers, or healthcare providers. In this interview by Alaba Ayinuola, Agnes speaks about her NGOs, funded projects and her career-path. Excerpts.


Alaba: Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?

Agnes: My name is Agnes Nsofwa, an auditor and analyst turned Registered Nurse. For years I worked in the Tax Office as an auditor. After I migrated to Australia and worked in the bank for a few years then due to family reasons, I changed my career to become a Registered Nurse. All these skills have been helpful in my current role as a Quality Assessor, which involves assessing healthcare homes and reviewing their practices using my nursing experience. This requires me to understand auditing skills as well as understanding nursing standards to measure against.

Alaba: What motivated you to start your organisation, Australian Sickle Cell Advocacy Inc (ASCA)?

Agnes: Australian Sickle Cell Advocacy Inc is a community not for profit organisation supporting people impacted by sickle cell disease in Australia. It’s Australia’s first charity exclusively dedicated to serving the sickle cell community. My motivation for starting the organisation was to fill the gap that was missing in terms of supporting people impacted by sickle cell disease. For over six years after our daughter was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia, I felt alone and needed someone to talk to. So, in the hope of finding out more information about this condition, I went on social media to learn as much information as possible. For me this was a coping mechanism when I felt low about the uncertainty of this severe disease. However, the information I saw did not really help, rather depressing stories about how this disease can affect people.

Hence, I decided to take control and create a Facebook page where I would post positive news. The goal is to post educational information and news that was uplifting. That was six years after our daughter was diagnosed. Three years after managing this Facebook page, with a lot of enquiries on the page, I decided to ask a few friends of mine so that we could come together to create an official not for profit organisation dedicated to all people impacted by sickle cell disease in Australia.

Alaba: What is Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)? Is Sickle Cell Disease the same as Sickle Cell Anemia?

Agnes: Sickle Cell Disease is the hereditary disorder in which abnormal Haemoglobin within the Red Blood Cells (RBCs) causes the cells to take on abnormal sickle (crescent) shapes. It is one of the most common genetic disorders in the world affecting predominantly people from Sub Saharan Africa. 

There are different types of sickle cell disease, the most common ones include: sickle cell anaemia (SS), Sickle Hemoglobin-C Disease (SC), Sickle Beta-Plus Thalassemia and Sickle Beta-Zero Thalassemia. So, sickle cell anaemia is a type of sickle cell disease.

Alaba: What part of the body does sickle cell disease affect and the current treatments are available?

Agnes: Sickle Cell Disease affects all parts of the body as it is impacting the red blood cells which is one of the main components of blood. The main target is the Hemoglobin in the Red Blood Cells which carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Hence you see that all the organs in the body are affected and due to lack of oxygen to the parts of the body, it brings about a lot of complications. Some of which are: Pain episodes

  • Infections
  • Anaemia
  • Priapism
  • Strokes
  • Retinopathy
  • Leg ulcers
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney or urinary problems
  • Splenic sequestration
  • Hand-foot syndrome

Most of the treatment options are only there to treat these complications. The only available cure is a bone marrow transplant. The other available medications are there to help with red blood cells.

Alaba: Could you briefly share your personal experience and how you were able to manage it?

Agnes: I am a caregiver to a fabulous girl born with SCD. This is what drove me to start speaking up about the issues affecting people with SCD in Australia. We had to move between three States for us to find the perfect treatment for her. Her complications from SCD were one of those complicated cases such that at the age of 8, she had utilised almost all options available for management of SCD. The only option we were left with was trying a bone marrow transplant and were fortunate to have a matched sibling donor. But this was tricky because this treatment had never been done before in Australia for SCD HbSS. 

So, we trusted God and our instincts to go for it, and it paid off. Our daughter is now cured two years after undergoing the BMT, becoming the first child to undergo a BMT for SCD SS at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Australia. However, the fight still goes on for over 1000 people still affected by SCD in Australia.

Alaba: What were the challenges when founding ASCA and the impacts made since inception?

Agnes: Founding ASCA was organic because we already had a presence on social media (Facebook), but there were and still are challenges because people still fear stigmatisation from talking about SCD. Other significant challenges were that we are a volunteer organisation and must source funds for our activities through sponsorships or grants. In the time that we have been around, we have achieved a lot of things such as:

  • Receiving acknowledgement of SCD as a serious chronic condition from our Australian Federal Health Minister, the Honourable Greg Hunt MP on World Sickle cell Day in 2019 and 2020 respectively, for the first time in the Australian History.
  • Being one of the first organisations in the world to create a sickle cell course for healthcare providers as SCD is considered a rare disease in this country. 
  • Creating the Amplify Sickle Cell Voices Part Webinar Series, which provides a platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, advocacy, and education, bringing together global SCD advocates, world-class experts, and physicians. This is the first time in history that sickle cell warriors from all over the world have been able to share ideas in one “room”. Partnerships and connections have been formed because of this initiative. 
  • One of our recent best achievements is the approval of our newborn screening application which means that we will get a step closer to help detect SCD early and get children treated as early as possible, helping to start the management of the condition early.

Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?

Agnes: We have committed to a 5-year strategic plan, describing the objectives we would like to see from the gaps we have identified. So far, we have been able to tick off a few issues from this plan and we are confident as we go, we will be able to achieve a few more objectives.

Alaba: What do you think are the challenges in improving health in emerging economies?

Agnes: One of the major issues affecting people from the emerging economies is the issue around access to adequate and comprehensive healthcare. It is a well-known fact with a lot of literature to support that people in developing countries tend to have less access to health services than those in developed countries. I have seen it; I have lived in both settings.

Alaba: What would you say are the three key global health challenges, and the role of global health to address them?

Agnes: Going hand in hand with the issue of access, as a result we see the obvious health inequities in these settings. We have lower life expectancy for example, higher rates of mental health issues which are not even highly recognised in the developing countries, we see a lot of deaths that could otherwise be prevented if we were in developed countries. These are just some of the examples.

Another issue is the disparities in the management of covid-19. I think this is currently the highest priority issue that not only is it affecting developing countries but developed countries as well. However as with access to other health issues, we are still seeing that vaccines are not readily available in developing countries. We have countries like the USA who are vaccinating teenagers that are not as vulnerable as the elderly or even healthcare workers in developing countries. Yet again people from not so rich countries always have to come in last.

Also, I have seen especially in this covid-19 era is the inability to invest in health care workers especially in developing countries… again. Right as we speak Zambians in the diaspora are fund-raising to buy medical supplies for Zambian healthcare workers who are dying in numbers during the third wave of covid-19 pandemic. This issue was also experienced in developed countries where we saw healthcare workers dying or being at risk due to less supply of PPE. These people put their lives on the line and so many have died simply because their respective governments were unable to protect them, the world can do better to protect our frontline workers.

Alaba: What is the future for ASCA and plans for the remaining part of the year 2021?

Agnes: Our future looks very bright in terms of meeting our strategic plan objectives. One of the tasks that I have personally given myself is to ensure that we have smaller doses for hydroxyurea approved in Australia. As much as we have hydroxyurea in Australia, it has not been approved for use for sickle cell disease. Once it is approved for use for SCD in Australia, this will pave way for other smaller doses to be registered in Australia.

Of course, another major achievement is the conference that is pretty much done planning. I have sent you the flyer for you to advertise on our behalf. Going forward, this will be an annual event. We hope to have people from around the world join us for the face-to-face event one day, post covid-19

Alaba: How do you feel as an African in Diaspora making an impact in Australia?

Agnes: I feel honoured that I can advocate for a condition that predominantly affects people who look like me. This has been a major drive for me because I know just how hard it can be to be recognised in a country where you are the minority. In saying that it has not been an easy road, both in Australia and around the world. However, you push on because failure is not an option.

Alaba: What is your advice to policymakers and parents on SCD?

Agnes: For policymakers especially from less resourced countries: “let us make sickle cell disease a priority public health issue as it is affecting so many people of our own”. Over 10 years ago African WHO member countries signed a strategic plan to ensure that SCD was going to be professionally managed. Not all countries are doing this. Countries like Gambia do not even have a sickle cell policy nor hydroxyurea. Because of Amplify Sickle Cell Voices, one of the policy makers promised to work with SCD advocates in that country to ensure that they start working towards creating a policy. There is not much research and even simple monitoring techniques that are cheap enough for a country to afford, are missing. People are suffering, babies below the age of five are dying and it is about time that these countries put their priorities right.

For Parents, trust your instincts, if you believe something is wrong then it is probably wrong. Study your child and know what triggers the SCD crisis. Do not wait or doubt, ensure that you seek treatment right away. If you are not happy about the care your child is receiving, get a second, third or even fourth opinion until you are satisfied. Caring for a child with SCD is not easy but if you have a routine and know the triggers it gets better. Also work in partnerships with the treating doctors. If possible, try to understand the meaning of the blood test results. If you are not sure, ask questions from the doctors to tell you what they mean. Things like measuring the size of the spleen for your child is something that can easily be taught. Because if you know how to do this, you can act promptly when your child is having a splenic sequestration crisis, a life-threatening illness complication in children with SCD.

 

B I O G R A P H Y

Agnes Nsofwa is a Strategist and Global Health Advocate, the Founder of Australian Sickle Cell Advocacy Inc (ASCA). Through her personal experience as a caregiver to a child born with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), she founded ASCA, a not-for-profit organisation supporting families impacted by sickle cell disease in Australia. She is also the founder of Amplify Sickle Cell Voices International Inc, a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to give a voice to people from low resource countries and lower settlement areas sharing their experiences as sickle cell patients, caregivers, or healthcare providers. Through sharing, the aim is to find strategies that can alleviate these issues.

Agnes is also the creator of Sickle Cell Talks with Agnes, a Facebook Live show that brings sickle cell warriors and other stakeholders to share stories and education sessions by healthcare providers to raise awareness about sickle cell disease. A mother of four children, Agnes is a Data Analyst by profession but became a Registered Nurse to understand the hospital system and what their youngest daughter was going through while living with sickle cell disease.

She holds a master’s degree in Nursing from the University of Sydney, a bachelor’s degree in business from Edith Cowan University and a Diploma in Accounting. After chasing a cure for their daughter in three different States across Australia, their daughter was cured from SCD in 2019, through a Bone Marrow Transplant, 11 years after living with this disease. Their daughter became the first child to get a Bone Marrow Transplant for SCD HbSS at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

 

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