Climate Change will Erode the Foundations of Health

Posted on 7 April 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

WHO Director-General warns vulnerable populations at greatest risk of projected impacts

Geneva, 7 April 2008 – Scientists tell us that the evidence the Earth is warming is “unequivocal.” Increases in global average air and sea temperature, ice melting and rising global sea levels all help us understand and prepare for the coming challenges. In addition to these observed changes, climate-sensitive impacts on human health are occurring today. They are attacking the pillars of public health. And they are providing a glimpse of the challenges public health will have to confront on a large scale, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization

(WHO), warned today on the occasion of World Health Day.

“The core concern is succinctly stated: climate change endangers human health,” said Dr Chan. “The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events – more storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves – will be abrupt and acutely felts. Both trends can affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease.”

Human beings are already exposed to the effects of climate-sensitive diseases and these diseases today kill millions. They include malnutrition, which causes over 3.5 million deaths per year, diarrhoeal diseases, which kill over 1.8 million, and malaria, which kills almost 1 million.

Examples already provide us with images of the future:

  • European heat wave 2003. Estimates suggest that approximately 70,000 more people died in that summer than would have been expected.
  • Rift Valley Fever in Africa. Major outbreaks are usually associated with rains, which are expected to become more frequent as the climate changes.
  • Hurricane Katrina, 2005. Over 1800 died and thousands more were displaced. Additionally, health facilities throughout the region were destroyed critically affecting health infrastructure.
  • Malaria in the East African Highlands. In the last 30 years, warmer temperatures have also created more favourable conditions for mosquito populations in the region and therefore for transmission of malaria.
  • Epidemics of cholera in Bangladesh. They are closely linked to flooding and unsafe water.

These trends and events cannot be attributed solely to climate change but they are the types of challenges we expect to become more frequent and intense with climate changes. They will further strain health resources which, in many regions, are already under severe stress.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its consequences will not be evenly distributed,” said Dr Chan. “In short, climate change can affect problems that are already huge, largely concentrated in the developing world, and difficult to control.”

To address the health effects of climate change, WHO is coordinating and supporting research and assessment on the most effective measures to protect health from climate change, particularly for vulnerable populations such as women and children in developing countries, and is advising Member States on the necessary adaptive changes to their health systems to protect their populations.

WHO and its partners – including the UN Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the UN World Meteorological Organization – are devising a workplan and research agenda to get better estimates of the scale and nature of health vulnerability and to identify strategies and tools for health protection. WHO recognizes the urgent need to support countries in devising ways to cope. Better systems for surveillance and forecasting, and stronger basic health services, can offer health protection. WHO will be working closely with its Member States in coming years to develop effective means of adapting to a changing climate and reducing its effects on human health.

“Through its own actions and its support to Member States,” said Dr Chan, “WHO is committed to do everything it can to ensure all is done to protect human health from climate change.”

Website: http://www.who.int/world-health-day/en/

For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, at tel: +254 20 762 3084, mobile: +254 733 632755, or e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, at tel: +254 20 762 3088, or e-mail: anne-france.white@unep.org.

Or at WHO: Sari Setiogi in Geneva on +4122 791 3576, mobile +4179 701 9467, email setiogis@who.int, John Rainford in Geneva on +41 22 791 3982, mobile +41 79 516 3709, email rainfordj@who.int.

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2 Responses to “Climate Change will Erode the Foundations of Health”

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WHO Director General Warnings about the vulnerability of human population due to the exposure and impact of climate change is glaring in the least.

Despite WHO warning on Malaria in the East African Highlands, little being done by the governments concerned.

The problem is that we more often than not tend to wait until a disaster occurs before we take action, and as we all know by then the damage is already done.

Now is the time to safeguard our environment before its too late.


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