To protect people’s health against the impacts of climate variability and change, health authorities need to be actively involved in national adaptation planning. In the South East Asia Region, Germany and the World Health Organization have strengthened country-level capacity to formulate Health National Adaptation Plans.
Bringing health into national adaptation planning
Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are encouraged to formulate National Adaptation Plans which outline the strategies and programmes they will pursue to address the medium- and long-term risks posed by climate variability and change. In many countries, these risks include negative health outcomes induced by changes in precipitation patterns, rising temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, and other climate-related factors.
In order to protect people’s health from the impacts of climate change, and to ensure that policies and interventions introduced in other sectors do not inadvertently harm public health, it is essential that health institutions and health experts be actively involved in national adaptation planning. Through the Health National Adaptation Plan (HNAP) process, health authorities identify strategic goals for building health resilience to climate change, develop a national plan with prioritised activities to achieve these goals, and work closely with counterparts from other sectors which shape health determinants (e.g. environment, water, agriculture) to inform the overall national adaptation planning process.
Germany and WHO join forces to strengthen adaptation planning in South East Asia
In 2015 Germany and the WHO agreed to work together to build capacity on climate change and health in the South East Asia Region. With financial support from German Development Cooperation, WHO organised an initial training workshop in Indonesia to introduce participants to climate change and its impact on human health.
A year later, after receiving additional country-level support from WHO, many of these countries had made significant progress in adaptation planning. In response to the need for more specialised technical input, WHO convened a second training workshop to build country capacity to develop HNAPs and to allow countries in the region to learn from one another. This workshop, held in Kathmandu in November 2016, marked the first time that the WHO supported a regional exchange of experience on the HNAP process and its link to national adaptation planning.
Taking stock of country progress
The nine countries represented at the workshop were at different stages of the national adaptation planning process: some had already formulated HNAPs, while others had only barely begun to engage with the topic of climate change and health.
At the start of the meeting, each country made a poster presentation about the situation in their country, the main climate-related risks, and the status of adaptation planning. These introductory talks provided an overview of climate-related health challenges in the region and the progress that countries had made in addressing climate impacts.
Technical guidance on the formulation of Health National Adaptation Plans
Climate change and health experts, and representatives from the WHO and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH provided technical input on key elements of the HNAP process. Their presentations covered, among others, the WHO operational framework for climate resilience, how to assess climate risks through comprehensive Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessments, and the framework for and key steps of the HNAP process.
The discussions after each presentation highlighted areas where countries may require further guidance. One issue which arose repeatedly was the need to differentiate between the Health National Adaptation Plan process and the Health National Adaptation Plan which emerges as a result of this process. Another topic which attracted great interest was indicators for measuring progress in adaptation to climate change. As more and more countries formulate Health National Adaptation Plans, the need for technical guidance is growing. The WHO is currently working on a guidance document which will provide sample indicators to assist countries in formulating their HNAP-specific metrics.
Learning from one another
These expert technical inputs were complemented by a horizontal exchange of experiences between the participating countries. Representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand – countries which were quite advanced in their HNAP process – presented their experiences, giving others the opportunity to learn and ask questions. They described how the HNAP process was initiated in their countries, how they prioritised adaptation measures, what they learned about building multi-sectoral partnerships, and what they would do differently if they were starting the process anew.
‘What countries need are practical examples about what can be done and how to go about it,’ explained Ute Jugert and Maylin Meincke of GIZ, who acted as resource persons at the workshop. ‘When reading technical documents, you don’t always know where to start and what to do.’ The country-level exchange was an invaluable source of ideas for all the participating countries, irrespective of how far they had progressed in their health adaptation planning, and highlighted the benefits of creating regional platforms for sharing experiences.