Climate Change Nearly Kills Boakai? By: W. Omecee Johnson Freelance

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Extreme or high temperatures exacerbated by the effects of climate change, nearly killed President Joseph Nyuma Boakai on January 22, 2024 during his inauguration at the Legislature on Capitol Hill in Monrovia. President Boakai narrowly defeated President George M. Weah with  20,000 votes during a run-off election, which ushered in a new government in Liberia headed by the Unity Party in which Boakai served as Vice President for 12 years under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s and Liberia’s first female President. The intensity of the heatwaves from the hot sun caused President Boakai to cut short his inaugural speech, after he struggled twice to continue reading his message but failed thus causing him to deliver a stuttering or stammering speech to the dismay of the audience. Boakai, 79 year old, who is the oldest President ever elected could not maintain the normal flow of his speech as he suffered from dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and he was tactically taken away from the podium by the Executive Protective Security (EPS) officers.  Extreme heat events can cause serious and potentially health problems for humans such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart attack, and can even worsen existing medical conditions that can eventually lead to death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Human activities especially those in industrialized countries are the ones destroying the Ozone layer situated in the Stratosphere, by emitting huge amount of emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through the burning of coal and fossil fuels. As a result of this depletion of the Ozone layer by wealthy nations, it undermines the capacity of the Ozone layer to shield humans and other living organisms from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation which effects are irreversible today.  In 2015, 196 wealthy nations mainly polluting countries signed the Paris Agreement and agreed that the world’s average temperatures should not exceed that of pre-industrial time of 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.50C) globally and (2.70F). Despite the fact that developing countries generate far fever greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation and land degradation, poor people on the continent continue to suffer and die from the impacts of climate change through extreme heat events, turbulent weather, storms, droughts and flooding. It can be recalled that a Liberian based in Minnesota, United States of America came to witness Boakai’s inauguration but was struck by heatwaves during the ceremony held outdoor on Capitol Hill, got fainted and rushed to hospital and later pronounced dead.  Liberia is already suffering from the impacts of climate change evident by the wiping of coastal communities due to erosion caused by sea level rise, displacement or forced migration of the population as a result of flooding, destruction events or storms and low or poor agricultural yields which can be attributed to droughts and unpredictable rainfall.  The World Health Organization has described climate change as the biggest global threat to human health in the 21st Century. On the other hand, Scientists are predicting that an extra 4.9 million people will die each year in the coming decades should global temperature rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.50C). In response to this looming global threat which effects are irreversible, the United Nations is calling on member states to take urgent action toward climate change mitigation and adaptation. The UN’s call is enshrined in Goal # 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But, how can nations embarked on climate – resilient development initiatives when in fact the people affected have little or no knowledge about the local and international causes of climate change. To worsen this knowledge gap, journalists whose professional career is to inform and educate the public don’t even prioritize climate related stories because of the lack of knowledge. They consider climate change as “even-based” and not “issue-based”.  Climate change is the biggest under-reported story in the Liberian media landscape. No journalists including local, national or international ever highlighted the situation that caused President Boakai to stutter and cut his speech short on his inauguration, as well as the untimely death of a Liberian based in Minnesota, United States of America was because of the effects of climate change. Major headlines in the media only highlighted that Boakai suffered from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This indicates that journalists need to acquire basic skills and knowledge on how to mainstream climate change in their reportage.

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