‘Too big to fail’ – Africa’s youth under threat of climate change

People carry goods along a destroyed road after vehicles were barred from crossing the area following heavy rains on the Thika-Garissa highway in northern Kenya, November 22, 2023. /Xinhua

People carry goods along a destroyed road after vehicles were barred from crossing the area following heavy rains on the Thika-Garissa highway in northern Kenya, November 22, 2023. /Xinhua

Editor’s note: Ivor Ichikowitz, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is an African industrialist and philanthropist. He chairs the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which conceptualized and funds the African Youth Survey. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Most of us know that conditions for many people in Africa are tough. Very few of us know, however, that approximately one-third of African youth struggle to access clean water every day.

According to our African Youth Survey, in Congo Brazzaville, 70 percent of the youth aged 18-24 battle to access clean water, as opposed to 50 percent of the youth in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the latter nation ironically the well-grandized home of the minerals necessary to fuel the globe’s ambitions for a green industrial revolution.

It is indeed one of the most profound satires that raw materials extracted from Africa and then beneficiated in the northern hemisphere which rapidly industrialized, as a result, will have a disproportionate effect on the continent from which they were taken.

As the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) is underway in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the plight of Africa’s youth is also the plight of the whole continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 398 million people in Africa do not have reliable access to drinking water; 900 million youth lack access to adequate hygiene; and one-third of young people in Africa have to rely on bottled water, a figure which, in Nigeria, one of our continent’s largest economies, doubles to six-in-10.

There are many reasons for this predicament. After all, the people of Africa have been on the receiving end of centuries of exploitation by people from the rest of the world and one would argue that many African countries continue to feel the shackles of neo-economic colonialism.

But make no mistake, at COP28, the greatest and most lasting impact to consider and to be ideally deliberated upon will be the threat of climate change made real upon Africa and then upon the rest of the world.

Comprising at present date 17 percent of the world’s population, the continent’s emissions account for only 4 percent of the world total, and yet Africa is the most vulnerable region in the world due to them: Flash flooding or drought and psychotic weather patterns are increasingly wreaking havoc on the African way of life, from the coastlines to the hinterland, disrupting food and water insecurity on a continent that is extremely poverty stricken in many places.

All of this is exacting a terrible cost every year: The Lancet, the medical journal, recently reported that pollution alone claimed 1.1 million deaths in Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) would go on to record that 1.2 million people had to flee their homes because of extreme weather.

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Sudan are seen at the reception center in Renk County, Upper Nile State, South Sudan, April 30, 2023. /Xinhua

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Sudan are seen at the reception center in Renk County, Upper Nile State, South Sudan, April 30, 2023. /Xinhua

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Sudan are seen at the reception center in Renk County, Upper Nile State, South Sudan, April 30, 2023. /Xinhua

One of the lesser-discussed proponents of climate change, deforestation, further pushes humans into close contact with wildlife and wildlife-borne diseases, like mosquitos and bats. Ethiopia is now one among numerous African countries home to a particular mosquito species known as Anopheles stephensi, today recognized by the medical community as actively spreading malaria.

Indeed Jean Kaseya, the director general of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that climate change will pose the biggest threat to human health in Africa and the rest of the world just days ago.

Sometimes, if you travel across Africa, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ordinary person on the dusty street thinks little about the impact of climate change or the deeper consequences of foreign influence on their homeland. But you would be grievously mistaken if you did.

They will not accept empty platitudes but will hold their leaders to account, for the simple reason that they are living with the consequences of decisions and acts made by others well before they were even born.

What is vital to understand too, is that their commitment is far more than just lip service but rooted in personal commitment and activism. Two-thirds of them are actively supporting, participating in, or donating to environmental causes. The same proportion is actively working to reduce their carbon footprint. But to date, their efforts aren’t enough.

Former African Union (AU) Climate Advisor Faten Aggad recently and rightly stated that “COP is just a moment…you need to tell your story constantly in the global space.” World leaders must nonetheless seize the COP28 moment to recognize and formulate solutions alongside Africa without the time or patience to wait before the youth become leaders in their own right.

For the world, instead, this should be a clarion call, from policymakers to progressive companies wanting to invest in Africa to the institutions with a commitment to the continent, noting that there is a groundswell of support waiting in the wings, ready to be harnessed for the good of all.

As they say in Africa, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. If the world is serious about helping Africa, it has to work with the youth in which it will find fertile ground to plant the seeds for change.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

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