As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip on the Horn of Africa, its impacts are being felt unevenly across geographies, time, and different groups of people. These impacts go beyond the immediate risk of infection, compounding existing vulnerabilities, crises and risks to create an economic crisis that will take longer to recover from than the illness itself.
It is not easy to estimate the total economic cost of the effects of climate change and pest infestation that have devastated millions of hectares of cropland across different African countries. Unfortunately, with no improvement on climate change, conflict, and the economic crisis in sight, their total impact on human livelihoods is likely to remain high and continue to grow for years to come.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been labelled alternatively as a potential geopolitical game-changer, or as an accelerator for trends which were already underway. For sure, the pandemic is acting as a threat-multiplier for countries that were already struggling with other threats, such as protracted conflicts, economic crises, and climate change. As the risk of a global food crisis looms, Africa and West Asia are the regions where this perfect storm is the most likely to happen.
Most countries along the BRI are developing countries and emerging economies. They account for 31 percent of the global GDP, but constitute about 62 percent of world’s population(1). At the same time, the ecological environment is very fragile, due to the distribution of most of the global biodiversity hotspots(2). 58 percent of the world’s deserts are also concentrated in this area(3). In a certain sense, the historical Silk Road is also an international transmission channel for dust and pollutants(4).
The COVID-19 lockdowns had an immediate and drastic impact on transport systems and mobility, in particular on the mobility patterns of people. Strict regulations imposed by governments around the world have affected the delivery of and demand for public transport services in and across many cities and countries as highlighted in Figure 1.
Past global catastrophes have shown us how public health crises force us to change how we design, build, and operate cities and infrastructure systems. The cholera epidemic, for example, in the 19th century led to the introduction of modern sanitation systems  . During the Industrial Revolution, housing regulations on air circulation and lighting were introduced as measures to avoid respiratory diseases in overcrowded houses in Europe.
Today’s global context indicates that disparities and inequalities in human development are widespread across the world and they will probably increase in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The availability of natural resources is limited and global warming, linked to human activity, is putting the survival of forests, cities and people at risk. Geopolitical implications prompt policymakers to look at existing and new connectivity infrastructure more as a proxy of their sovereignty than as an opportunity for inclusive economic growth.
In recent years, we have witnessed an acceleration in the rate at which the Earth’s climate is changing. Rising average temperatures have led to growth in the frequency and severity of acute hazards, such as heat waves and floods, as well as growth in the intensity of chronic hazards, such as drought and rising sea levels.
Approximately 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by the construction and operation of infrastructure. Infrastructure projects can have a lifespan of multiple decades, even centuries, meaning that any project built today will bring with it significant lock-ins for the climate change trajectory. Given the significant infrastructure needs, for climate considerations alone, it is crucial that infrastructure solutions are designed in the most sustainable way.
During the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world have placed infrastructure development at the centre of their agendas aimed at relaunching their economies. The large recovery packages put in place are an unprecedented opportunity to address our future’s next great challenge: climate change.