Thursday June 30, 2022

Climate risks

December 25, 2021

Much attention has been devoted in recent times to the environmental and economic effects of climate change. Much less attention, however, has been given to the possible effects of climate change, particularly global warming, on the health of the populations, particularly those from the poorest countries.

This is a trend that requires prompt attention if the negative effects of climate change on health are to be avoided or minimized. According to some estimates, at least 1 in 6 people worldwide will suffer the consequences of climate change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that global warming and rainfall changes cause the loss of at least 150,000 lives every year. This figure could increase significantly if current trends of climate change continue. The WHO also states that the risk of death and disease from climate change will at least double in the next 20 years. Paradoxically, the countries that have least contributed to global warming are the most vulnerable to its negative consequences.

Global warming can affect the health of populations both directly and indirectly. Direct effects can result from heat-related deaths or weather-caused disasters such as hurricanes and drought-related wildfires. Indirect effects can result from alterations in complex ecological processes such as changes in the patterns of infectious diseases, in the quantity and quality of domestic food production, and altered potable water supplies. Experts predict that receding waters in the Ganges River could affect the lives of 400 million people.

Climate change could also alter the geographic distribution of disease vectors and thus alter the epidemiology of vectors-transmitted diseases. Some diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue and encephalitis, which are spread by insects, are sensitive to climate, since mosquitoes thrive in warmer climates. Other diseases, like cholera, are closely linked to the quality of potable water supplies, which can be seriously eroded by increasing rains, resulting in flooding and contamination by microorganisms.

Climate change will seriously affect food production, since many cereal crops can be affected by higher temperatures. This will have an effect not only on the amounts of food available but also on the economies of the countries affected.

Crop failures will provoke a higher death toll in poor countries, particularly among children, as a result of malnutrition. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that almost 800 million people in developing countries do not currently have enough to eat, a figure that is bound to increase substantially as a result of climate change.

In addition, prolonged heat waves will likely increase deaths from heart disease, since the cardiovascular system must work harder to keep the body cool. Because the elderly and the sick are more susceptible to the effects of extreme changes in temperature, heat waves will also pose health risks to those populations.

Excerpted from: ‘Climate Change Brings Serious Health Risks’.