Health and Climate Change

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    • Recently, the Lancet has released a report which shows how climate change is affecting global health.

    Major Highlights of the report

    • Global phenomenon: Climate change is not an isolated incident or occurrence, but a global phenomenon, leaving its impact on almost every aspect of life, sweeping in its train nations across the world, irrespective of whether they contributed to it or not. 
    • COVID-19: Countries and health systems continue to contend with the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and persistent fossil fuel overdependence has pushed the world into global energy and cost-of-living crises.
    • Increased Heat wave days: rapidly increasing temperatures exposed people, especially vulnerable populations (adults above 65 years old and children younger than one) to 3.7 billion more heat wave days in 2021 than annually in 1986–2005.
    •  Rise in infectious diseases: The changing climate is affecting the spread of infectious disease, raising the risk of emerging diseases and co-epidemics. 
      • For instance, it records that coastal waters are becoming more suited for the transmission of Vibrio pathogens. 
      • It also says that the number of months suitable for malaria transmission has increased in the highland areas of the Americas and Africa.
    • Additional deaths: The WHO has predicted that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 2, 50,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
    • Food security: Higher temperatures threaten crop yields directly, with the growth season shortening for many cereal crops. 
      • Extreme weather events disrupt supply chains, thereby undermining food availability, access, stability, and utilisation. 
      • The prevalence of undernourishment increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and up to 161 million more people face hunger in 2020 than in 2019.
    • Dependence on fossil fuel: The war has led many countries to search for alternative fuels to Russian oil and gas, and some of them are still turning back to traditional thermal energy. 

    Do you know?

    • 89.3% of the global population, some 8.4 billion people, could be at risk of malaria by 2078, compared with 75.6% of the population at the end of the last century.
    • The IPCC report projects that in the coming decades, climate changes will increase in all regions. 
      • An increase of 1.5°C would be associated with increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons.
      • While at 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health

    Major Challenges cited by the report 

    • Health at the Mercy of Fossil Fuels: It points out that the world’s reliance on fossil fuels increases the risk of disease, food insecurity and other illnesses related to heat.
    • Environmental determinants of health: According to the WHO, climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health: clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
    • Climate change is undermining many of the social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures.
    • These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations and those with underlying health conditions.
    • Mental health: each year since 2008, an average of more than 20 million people worldwide are forced to move because of weather-related events. The impacts on mental health caused by such trauma and loss are harder to quantify than the effects on physical health. 

    Way Forward/ Suggestions 

    • A transition to clean energy forms would undeniably be the sustainable way ahead.
    • A health-centred response to the coexisting climate, energy, and cost-of-living crisis provides an opportunity to deliver a healthy, low-carbon future.
    • The governments’ commitment to assess and address the threats from climate change, are positive signs.
    • Improvements in air quality will help prevent deaths resulting from exposure to fossil fuel-derived ambient PM2.5.
    • The stress on low-carbon travel and increase in urban spaces would result in promoting physical activity which would have an impact on physical and mental health.
    • It calls for an accelerated transition to balanced and more plant-based diets, as that would help reduce emissions from red meat and milk production, and prevent diet-related deaths, besides substantially reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases.
    • The report calls for global coordination, funding, transparency, and cooperation between governments, communities, civil society, businesses, and public health leaders, to reduce or prevent the vulnerabilities that the world is otherwise exposed to.

    Source: TH