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Countdown on Health and Climate Change

Climate change poses a host of threats to the survival of mankind. Each year about 800,000 people die from causes attributable to air pollution, 1.8 million from diarrhea resulting from lack of access to clean water supply, sanitation, and poor hygiene, 3.5 million from malnutrition and approximately 60,000 in natural disasters. A warmer and more variable climate would result in higher levels of some air pollutants, increased transmission of diseases through unclean water and through contaminated food. Climate change has a direct impact on human health.

For example, the warmer the climate the likelihood of its impact on human health becomes worse. It is anticipated that there will be an increase in the number of deaths due to greater frequency and severity of heat waves and other extreme weather events. Climate change and the resulting higher global temperatures are causing increasing frequency of floods and droughts leading to the risk of disease infections. Lack of freshwater during droughts and contamination of freshwater supplies during floods compromise hygiene, thus increasing rates of diarrhoeal disease.

Reports of World Health Organization:

Endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise in East, South and South- East Asia due to projected changes in hydrological cycle. Flooding also creates opportunities for breeding of disease carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

Areas affected by frequent floods and drought conditions also witness large scale migration of populations to relatively stable regions leading to overcrowding and unhygienic conditions resulting in transmission of diseases like Japanese encephalitis and malaria. Climate change is a major factor in the Spread of infectious diseases. Diseases ,confined to one specific geographic region spread to other areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) in their studies have indicated that due to rising temperatures, malaria cases are now being reported for the first time from countries like Nepal and Bhutan.

It has also been predicted that an additional 220-400 million people could be exposed to malaria- a disease that claims around 1 million lives annually. Dengue fever is already in evidence at higher levels of elevation in Latin America and parts of East Asia. Studies suggest that Climate Change may swell the population at risk of malaria in Africa by 90 million by 2030, and the global Population at risk of dengue by 2 billion by 2080s.

Dynamic changes in the globe:

Rising temperatures and changing patterns of rainfall are projected to decrease crop yields in many developing countries, stressing food supplies. This will ultimately translate into wider prevalence of malnutrition /under nutrition.

In some African countries, yields from rain – fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020. Emission of the Green House Gases have been responsible for the depletion of Ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the harmful direct rays of the Sun. Depletion of Stratospheric Ozone results in higher exposure to the ultra violet rays of the Sun, leading to an increase in the incidents of Skin Cancer. It Could also lead to an increase in the number of people suffering from eye diseases such as cataract. It is also thought to cause suppression on the immune system.

The projections by WHO and IPCC suggest that the negative effects of Climate change on health are greater. In addition , the negative effects are concentrated on poor populations that already have compromised health prospects, thus widening the inequality gap between the most and the least privileged. The balance of positive and negative health impacts will vary from one location to another, and will alter over time as temperatures continue to rise.

Climate change and Human Health:

  • Climate change is already damaging the health of the world’s children and is set to shape the well-being of an entire generation, unless the world meets the target to limit warming to well below 2˚C.
  • As temperatures rise, infants will bear the greatest burden of malnutrition and rising food prices — average yield potential of maize and rice has declined almost 2% in India since the 1960s, with malnutrition already responsible for two-thirds of under-5 deaths.
  • Also, children will suffer most from the rise in infectious diseases — with climatic suitability for the Vibrio bacteria that cause cholera rising 3% a year in India since the early 1980s.
  • With its huge population and high rates of healthcare inequality, poverty and malnutrition, few countries are likely to suffer from the health effects of climate change as much as India.
  • Diarrhoeal infections, a major cause of child mortality, will spread into new areas, whilst deadly heat waves, similar to the one in 2015 that killed thousands of people in India, could soon become the norm.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants.
  • The damage done in early childhood is persistent and pervasive, with health consequences lasting for a lifetime.
  • As temperatures rise, harvests will shrink — threatening food security and driving up food prices. This will hit infants hardest. They would also feel deadliest impact of disease outbreaks.
  • If the world follows a business-as-usual pathway, with high carbon emissions and climate change continuing at the current rate, a child born today will face a world on average over 4˚C warmer by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.

Over the past two decades, the Government of India has launched many initiatives and Programmes to address a variety of diseases and risk factors. But the public health gains achieved over the past 50 years could soon be reversed by the changing climate:
  1. For the world to meet its UN climate goals and protect the health of the next generation, the energy landscape will have to change drastically, and soon.
  2. Nothing short of a 7.4% year-on-year cut in fossil CO2 emissions from 2019 to 2050 will limit global warming to the more ambitious goal of 1.5°C.
  3. Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in wellbeing and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation.
To dramatically reduce emissions by 2050, and to meet multiple Sustainable Development Goals, India must transition away from coal and towards renewable energy. It will also need to enhance public transport, increase use of cleaner fuels, and improve waste management and agricultural production practice.

  1. Report on Intergovernmental panel on Climate change.
  2. Ministry of Environmental and Forests
  5. Report of World Health Organization

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