Interdisciplinary blog

Population Health USRG: Public Health and Adapting to Climate Change in Cape Town

April 24, 2014
by Frances Clarke

The moment we arrived in Cape Town we were immersed in the challenges of Public Health and Adapting to Climate Change – the theme of this year’s WUN conference. Those who chose to join the field trip to the Goedgedacht Trading company saw a response to climate change, and the fruits – in this case olives –  of a farm project that encourages the growing of produce that is not water hungry. Those who visited the Rocklands Urban Abundance Centre saw at first hand the challenges of food security through the lens of food production in the area. Those who visited Graveyard Pond and Sweet Home, two communities on Cape Flats, met representatives from the communities and saw the resourceful actions demonstrated and required by the community leaders and their teams as they continue to tackle the challenges caused by having dwellings in an area prone to flooding.


Narrow ‘streets’ in Graveyard Pond.

After these day-long trips, delegates convened in the evening to hear Professor Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of Cape Town University, and Professor John Hearn, Executive Director of WUN, giving a warm welcome. Sir David King, the main speaker, received a rousing introduction from the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith MacGregor.

Here is a  flavour of the next two, thought provoking, inspiring, mentally exhilarating, crammed days.

The  keynote was given by Professor Jonathan Crush at 08.30 the next day. 

Jonathan Crush on migration: ‘If all (migrants) were the inhabitants of one country, it would be the 5th largest population in the world… they have an economic significance which has not been adequately quantified…’

One of Professor Mark Hanson ‘s slides showed the UN Declaration, which has recently, after lobbying by WUN, been altered to include the Lifecourse approach to NCDs in its high level policy.

Duncan Matheka of NCD Child, advocated working directly with the young, as partners, to ensure dissemination of the Lifecourse approach. Nigel Rollins of the World Health Organisation reminded us that achieving scientific research goals depends on people getting on well together. Professor Don Nutbeam said that he learned from his time working in Government, that things go wrong, policy-wise, if researchers are answering questions that governments didn’t ask. Solomon Asfaw, from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation asked: what intervention could create a willingness to forgo a short term benefit in favour of a long term benefit? He said that making the case is key.

In lively Q & A sessions and break-out groups the delegates strove energetically to hammer out formulations to arrive at the right questions to ask. Questions like:-

What are the questions that the World Universities Network as a network, could answer, better, than each researcher on their own or each university as a single organisation?

As a network, could WUN produce an audit of all the creative, non-paternalistic responses to the challenges posed by food security and climate change, at civil society level?

A typical conference break-out group discussion was between research experts from Public Health, Food Production, EcoSystems and Climate Change and included representatives from either WHO, NCD Child or FAO.

The conference, as is only appropriate, given its subject, had a great way to enhance our health and wellbeing too. If, on Day 2, you got up in time, there was an optional, pre-breakfast ‘hike’ on the Lion’s Head – a mountain next to Table Mountain. By ‘hike’ I soon began to see that they meant ‘extremely dangerous and foolhardy mountaineering’. A large party of us set off, most wearing unsuitable clothes and footwear. It was brilliant – tremendous.

I confess to being overcome with vertigo eventually and making a life preserving decision to begin to scramble back down. I was helped by friendly fellow mountaineers who leapt nimbly from crag to crag oblivious to the ghastly drop, inches to our right. It was terrifying  (not to the others, I hasten to add) but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, AND we were back in time for breakfast. I duly added it to my GoFit minutes for the week.




 There go my intrepid fellow delegates








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