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Aftershocks: Diseases are getting worse. Blame climate change.


View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter. This week: Kenya’s “bellwether” election, Sierra Leone’s groundbreaking land ownership laws, climate change super-charged pathogens, and more.

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With the grain: Of the fourteen grain-carrying vessels that have finally left Ukraine (as of Thursday), none are destined for African countries. An estimated three million tonnes of grain are already in Ukrainian ports awaiting export, with ‌20 million tonnes in storage across Ukraine. Experts caution that grain shipments from Ukraine – while welcome – will “barely make a dent” in the hunger crisis. 50 million people are on the verge of famine across 45 countries. Meanwhile, unmet food aid requirements to countries in crisis have increased by nearly tenfold in the past decade, to $33.5 billion in 2022.

Odinga vs. Ruto: Kenya’s national elections took place this week, but citizens may end up waiting for “weeks, even months” before a new president is sworn in. The two top contenders – opposition leader Raila Odinga and outgoing vice president William Ruto – are locked in a close race. While tensions to date seem lower than after the 2017 election, so too does voter turnout, which likely dropped from 80% to 60% (and 40% amongst young people). Some Kenyans were reportedly disaffected by food shortages, economic woes and corruption, and uninspired by the candidates. Others expressed distrust in the electoral process, despite transparent poll reporting. If there’s no clear winner, a run-off election or legal challenge could occur, which would echo the 2017 election. Accusations of vote-rigging, violence, and the murder of a senior electoral official marred that vote. Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat.

New laws land: Two legislative breakthroughs in Sierra Leone will expand formal land ownership to women and allow local farmers to negotiate rates directly with companies buying or leasing land. Previously, the government could sell or lease land to companies without the explicit consent of the landowners, at a disturbingly low rate of $2.5 per acre per year. Campaigners have heralded the laws as the most robust legal regime anywhere to protect the land rights of communities facing harm. Private investors claim it could open them up to “enormous blackmail.” 🙄 Customary laws – social customs that may inhibit women’s meaningful representation – could still pose a challenge.

Hot n’ very bothered: Climate change could exacerbate 58% of the infectious diseases affecting humans, according to new research. Changes in weather patterns don’t just draw humans closer to pathogen carriers like mosquitoes (and animals, which also drives the emergence of new viruses). Hotter temperatures can make pathogens more resilient to fevers, a key biological defence mechanism. Malnutrition and stress worsened by climate change also weaken people’s immune response. Experts say it’s not viable to adapt to these changes, especially where COVID-19 has weakened health systems. What would have an impact? Cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.

Not so fast: African climate diplomats have rejected a proposal to adopt a common position at COP27 to promote continued fossil fuel investment in Africa. The AU’s Executive Council advanced the measure last month. The diplomats argued that the pro-fossil fuel proposal would be “too controversial” and distract from priorities like climate finance. The move comes as torrential rains are threatening urban dwellers in Addis Ababa and eroding farmland in Rwanda, and 50 million people in East Africa are facing acute food insecurity as a historic drought grips the region. Meanwhile, just getting “loss & damage” included on the COP27 agenda is proving to be an uphill battle. 👀

Going green-ish: The United States – the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter – is on the brink of codifying historic legislation that could cut US emissions by 40% by 2030. The bill’s successful passage could bolster an EU initiative to cut emissions by 55% and support targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. But there’s a big ‘if.’ The bill’s success hinges in part on tax incentives for green energy inputs, including rare earth minerals that are not sourced from “foreign entit[ies] of concern,” including China, which dominates the global market. African countries rich in these minerals could benefit from additional export markets to accelerate and democratise their green energy transitions. But fully capitalising on the energy transition will require that African countries move beyond exporting raw minerals.

Rated and confused:  An AU body fired back after Moody’s downgraded the credit rating of Mauritius this week, arguing that it will significantly increase the country’s debt servicing burden and stifle economic progress. Moody’s cited “unconventional policies and once-off economic measures over the past two years“ as a driver for the downgrade. Notwithstanding the COVID-19-sized elephant in the room, which likely explains why unconventional and once-off policies were employed, credit rating agencies have been accused of bias in how they rate poorer countries. Ratings can significantly impact countries’ economic futures (including causing them to be cut off from financial markets). They also suffer from a lack of transparency and accountability, precisely the things that ensure the effective functioning of the free market, which credit rating agencies purport to serve.

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