The cost of climate change is often measured in terms of property damage and lost crops, but this doesn’t provide a complete picture of the impact it causes. A crucial consequence of climate change is the cost to human health – the damage to and loss of human lives from a wide range of environmental risks.

With a motive to highlight the immediate human cost of the climate crisis and encourage world leaders to take meaningful action, this year’s theme of World Humanitarian Day is ‘The Human Race’ - a global challenge in solidarity with people who have suffered the most due to the climate crisis.

World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is commemorated every year on 19 August having been formalised in 2009 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Each year, WHD focuses on a theme, bringing together partners from across the international humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, wellbeing, and dignity of people affected by crises and the safety and security of aid workers. This year’s theme emphasises that the climate emergency doesn’t affect everyone equally. People in vulnerable communities who are least responsible for changing weather patterns are affected the most and are already losing their homes, livelihoods, and lives.

In 2021, 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This number has risen to 1 in 33 people worldwide - a significant increase from 1 in 45 at the launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, which was already the highest figure in decades. The UN and partner organisations aim to assist 160 million people most in need across 56 countries and will require a total of US$35 billion to do so.

The agencies and institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) have long championed the cause of good stewardship of the environment. With environmental degradation posing a growing threat on the populations that AKDN serves, mitigating climate change, as well as helping populations adapt to its effects has taken on increased urgency and importance.

In recent years, AKDN has planted tens of millions of trees across Asia and Africa and has committed to planting millions more in the years to come. In Badakhshan, Afghanistan, tree plantation helps stabilise dangerous slopes and creates a natural carbon sink to help absorb greenhouse gases. Earlier this year in Kyrgyzstan, the mayor of Osh city announced a tree planting initiative to brighten up the city. The “Green City” initiative was held on 20 March 2021. Staff, students and parents of the Aga Khan School, Osh, contributed by planting 100 oak trees in the Ak Tilek area, a newly developed part of the city with little existing greenery.

It is also important to understand the role clean energy can play in bringing equity to vulnerable communities. In Central and Southeast Asia, women and children spend a considerable amount of time gathering biomass such as wood for energy. Their time could instead be put towards furthering their education or business if solar panels were installed in these communities.
It is our ethical duty to protect the environment for all humanity and the generations to come, and this year’s World Humanitarian Day is an ideal opportunity to do more.

Each individual’s action can lead to collective progress in mitigating climate change. Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken of the importance of caring for the environment. In Ottawa in 2013, he said, “Our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”