Search form

A teacher wearing a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 stands outside her makeshift classroom fashioned from branches in a displacmeent camp in Ethiopia.
Crisis Watch

Omicron: Triple threat of COVID, conflict, climate change in Africa

Photo: Martha Tadesse/IRC

As new COVID-19 variants such as Omicron emerge, it’s more important than ever that world leaders address the triple emergency of COVID, conflict and climate change that is wreaking havoc in Africa.

Just five of Africa’s 54 nations are projected to hit a 40% COVID-19 vaccination coverage target by the end of 2021. At the current pace, Africa still faces a 275 million shortfall of COVID-19 vaccine doses to reach that goal.

But while the United States has donated millions of vaccines to Africa, COVID-19 vaccine supply is not the only humanitarian concern. Ongoing conflicts have uprooted millions of people from their homes, often pushing them to seek safety in other countries. At the same time, climate-related events—including locust infestations, droughts, and extreme weather—are also displacing families and driving unprecedented need.

Spotlight on three crises

During U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to Africa in late November, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) called on the U.S. and other wealthy nations to renew efforts to address humanitarian crises unfolding across the continent, specifically in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan.

  • In Ethiopia, 11 million people are already facing crisis levels of hunger as conflict rages in Tigray and other regions.
  • In Nigeria, violence continues to grow after a decade of conflict that has displaced more than 3 million.
  • In Sudan, hunger needs are up to 60% higher than the last five-year average due to inflation and political crisis.

The Omicron variant and the COVID-19 pandemic have only compounded people’s suffering, and it will take more than widespread access to vaccines to address ongoing crises. “While COVID vaccinations can help stem the virus, the pandemic’s impact on rising food prices and overburdening health systems is worsening and requires broader solutions beyond vaccine donations,” says Amanda Catanzano, the IRC’s acting vice president of Policy and Advocacy.

For example, Catanzano explains, Kenya’s health system was already overwhelmed when the pandemic struck, worsening malaria and cholera outbreaks in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. “Refugee families in Kakuma live together in small tents and makeshift homes and are confined together in small spaces without access to proper water, sanitation and hygiene, making the conditions ripe for the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.”

What can be done to help?

“Increased aid dollars to address knock-on effects of climate change, conflict and COVID are long overdue,” Catanzano says. “COVID vaccine donations are simply not enough to address ongoing humanitarian emergencies with multiple root causes.”

Unless aid workers receive the funding they need to deliver vaccines and other lifesaving support in Africa, people in conflict areas and other hard-to-reach places will continue to be left behind.

Read about the IRC's work in Africa and around the world.