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Africa urged to tackle farmers' stress

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-12 07:04

People migrate with their livestock from a drought-affected region in Mandera, Kenya, on Dec 2. [Photo/Getty Images]

African governments have been urged to invest in mental health infrastructure to tackle the rising but hidden cases of climate-related stress among farmers and livestock keepers.

In a recent virtual event organized by the Kenya Red Cross Society and the African Coalition of Communities Responsive to Climate Change, based in Nairobi, Kenya, participants expressed the need for urgent measures to help communities adapt to the negative health impacts related to climate change.

Rosalid Nkirote, executive director of the African Coalition of Communities Responsive to Climate Change, said losses and damage due to climate change impacts such as floods and droughts are causing rising cases of depression.

"We are seeing farmers and pastoralists fall into serious depression as a result of losing investments in farming activities and livestock keeping due to drought and floods," she said.

There is an emerging trend where climate change is undermining gains in development, said Reagan Elvis Nyango, a mental health expert from Uganda.

While the response to climate impacts tends to focus on damaged roads and buildings, there is little attention given to the mental status of people whose livelihoods have been lost, people who lose loved ones or those whose houses have been damaged, he said.

Complex relationship

The relationship between climate change and health is complex, Nyango said, noting that to some extent it is not so direct.

He added that climate change has become a social, economic, environmental, and political challenge facing humankind both at local, regional, and global levels.

Zachary Misiani, climate research officer at the Kenya Red Cross Society, said mental health infrastructure is badly needed, particularly in such areas as rural and pastoral that have historically been neglected.

Climate change is a significant and emerging threat to public health, he said, adding it may get worse as the planet warms, oceans expand, sea levels rise, and as floods and droughts become more frequent and intense.

"This calls for changes in the way societies look at protecting vulnerable populations such as those with chronic illnesses or living in disaster-prone areas," Misiani said.

Among the must-haves in governments is climate information for early warning to reduce the effects of extreme weather events, he said.

"Early warning systems provide advance notice of impending disasters, allowing individuals and communities to take necessary measures to reduce risks and prepare for the event, take protective measures, thereby saving lives and reducing damage to property and infrastructure."

According to the World Health Organization, about 10 percent of the African population has a mental illness.

This is despite the fact that there is only one mental health worker per 100,000 people in the continent, compared with a global average of nine per 100,000 people.

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