- Climate change has led to extreme temperature, melting poles and wildfires
- It can decrease the production of staple foods and increase malnutrition
- Higher temperatures cause heat related illness like heat stroke
New Delhi: According to the new ‘EarthTime Visualisation’ report released at the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit, a record increase in temperature is expected in the United States, India and across South Asia for longer periods of time, reported PTI, a news agency on September 23. As per the same report, the national capital Delhi may have eight months a year with temperature averaging 32°C by 2100, up from six at present. The findings are like a cautionary warning against the worsening global warming scenario.
Wildfires across the globe, rising temperature, extreme weather, an increase in carbon dioxide levels, rising sea levels and melting poles are a result of climate change or global warming. Climate change not only affects the physical environment but also many of the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter – which further affect human health.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 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 alone.
The direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion per year by 2030. Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond, states the WHO.
Here’s How Climate Change Impact Health
Increases The Prevalence Of Malnutrition
According to WHO, rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions which in turn will increase the prevalence of malnutrition and undernutrition.
Further explaining the relationship between climate change and malnutrition, Basanta Kumar Kar, Recipient of the Global Nutrition Leadership Award, said, that the depletion and erosion of land, temporal and spatial changes in precipitation, population pressure to an already overburdened food and nutrition system compound the nutrition vulnerability. He added,
The continuous rise in temperature and increased dryness during pre-summer season may accelerate the rate of forest fire incidence and drought thus affecting lower yield. Further, soil erosion can decrease micronutrient contents in the soil thus decreasing the micronutrients in final produce. It can result in calorie, protein and micronutrient inadequacy in a larger population thus affecting the health and environment. Also, the increase in heavy metal contamination in the water can affect the final produce and alternatively affect the poor health.
Infections And Vector-borne Diseases
A vector is an organism, typically a biting insect or tick, that transmits a disease or an infection from an infected human or animal to an uninfected human. Climate change directly affects the emergence of vector-borne diseases, their transmission dynamics, and geographic spread.
For example, dengue transmission is rare in winters. Extreme heat or hot and humid weather and rainy season means a rise in dengue cases. Similarly, Malaria transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes is strongly influenced by climate.
The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue, said WHO.
Extreme Heat And Respiratory Infections
Dr Vikrant Shah, Consulting Physician, Intensivist and Infection Disease Specialist, at Zen Multispecialty Hospital in Mumbai, explained the impact of extreme air temperatures and heat on human health. He said,
Climate change is one of the reasons behind many of the wildfires across the world. These wildfires affect in two ways – create warm waves which will further cause heat stroke, headache, and weakness; secondly, because of fires, the normal protecting layer in the environment which is called air gases will be affected, contributing to the build-up of harmful air pollutants and in turn respiratory illnesses.
According to the WHO, pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people.
Small children, the elderly, and certain other groups including people with chronic diseases, low-income populations, and outdoor workers have a higher risk for heat-related illnesses.
Decreased Air Quality, Increased Cardiovascular Diseases
Higher temperatures lead to an increase in allergens and harmful air pollutants. For instance, longer warm seasons can mean longer pollen seasons – which can increase allergic sensitisations and asthma episodes and diminish productive work and school days, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a leading national public health institute of the United States.
More and larger wildfires linked to climate change could also significantly reduce air quality and affect people’s health. Like, exposure to smoke increases acute or sudden onset of respiratory illness, respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalisations, and medical visits for lung illnesses. The frequency of wildfires is expected to increase as drought conditions become more prevalent.
People with existing pollen allergies may have an increased risk of acute respiratory effects.
Climate change involves a shift in the weather pattern; increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of freshwater. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine.
Floods also heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes. Floods also lead to drownings, cause physical injuries, damage homes and disrupt the supply of medical and health services.
Dr Shah says that rain, stagnant water and warm temperature together become a breeding ground for dengue infection.
Flooded materials in homes, schools, and businesses can cause mold to grow and be inhaled, contributing to respiratory problems, explained CDC.
Variable precipitation can decrease the production of staple foods and again impact the food supply and amplify malnutrition and undernutrition.
Who Is At A Higher Risk Of Developing Severe Health Conditions Due To Climate Change?
Dr Vikrant Shah and WHO believe that everyone is will be affected by climate change. But, children, elderly people and individuals with comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, hypertension, and renal diseases and people on steroids are at a higher risk as their immunity is comparatively low.
Dr Shah further said,
At the end of the day, it is your immune system that protects you from contracting a disease and aids in fighting against diseases. Children under 10 years of age have natural immunity but we are in the day and age where children have poor dietary habits. They rely more on junk food than a balanced diet as a result of which they suffer from vitamin deficiencies. This further makes the human body more prone to infections.
What Measures Are Required To Subside The Impact Of Climate Change?
Dr Shah suggested going back to the basics which include ‘save water’, ‘save trees’, ‘plant trees’, and creating awareness, among others. Mr Kar has called for a Jan Andolan (people’s movement) to make a sustainable planet a household name. Mr Kar emphasised on collaborative efforts and said,
There have to be structural reforms that can reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution. Our public health and nutrition programmes need to mainstream climate change and the sustainable planet as an agenda. Our industries and the private sector must collaborate and complement.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.