New Delhi: Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, states the World Health Organisation. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 2.5 lakh additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Ahead of World Health Day, NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India interacted with Dia Mirza to discuss the link between the health of the planet and health of the humans. Ms Mirza is an actor, eco-investor, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and UN-Secretary General’s Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here are some excerpts from the interview.
NDTV: Climate change and global warming are on a rise and it’s evident with heatwaves, off-season rain, and extreme weather conditions. The latest IPCC Synthesis Report has said that the window to limit warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius is rapidly narrowing. What do you think is needed to address this?
Dia Mirza: It needs engagement. It needs information spreading fast and wide, accurate information. I think more than ever before we need everybody to acknowledge the fact that human health, peace, progress and our future are completely dependent on the health of the planet. The IPCC report makes it clear that climate change is impacting nature and people. The vulnerable communities, who have historically contributed the least to the climate crisis are being disproportionately affected. As temperatures rise, so do of course the risks of climate hazards. We are bearing witness to a tragic consequence; a 1.1-degree Celsius temperature rise has already happened. And that itself is impacting human health, livelihoods and well-being everywhere. I think inaction on the climate crisis is going to not just harm humanity’s future but is going to change every system on the planet and that is something that we are beginning to bear witness to. This is why governments, businesses, groups, individuals, and all of us have the imperative to act now.
It requires an immediacy and urgency of understanding the science and then implementing it and bringing about the transformations that we need. I think one of the ways that we can transform and impact big change is transforming the food system which is critical to addressing climate change. The food system is responsible for about a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions with agricultural production, changes in land use and supply chain activities, which are the largest contributors and this requires transformations from not just us as individuals shifting diets but protecting natural ecosystems, improving food production and decarbonising the food chain.
We need to see and understand the connection between our patterns of daily consumption, what is the source of food that is coming into our homes, what is powering our lives and how we need to change that and shift to renewable energy, shift to alternatives that are supercharged, by active participation by everyone, everywhere. Circularity is something that has to be embraced by all aspects of society. I will quote the Secretary General here where he says that the shift to renewable energy and other alternatives to fossil fuels needs to be supercharged, right? And he has called for an end to the global addiction to fossil fuels. And he said that we really need to jumpstart the renewables revolution. Of course, it’s started, but we need to make it even more swift and wide and accessible to everyone. And, of course that will require investing in new technologies, ensuring a just and equitable transition.
There are two other aspects to this answer. One is that we require deep transformation. That of course requires embracing circularity keeping resources in the economy out of the environment through reuse. And I am talking about plastic, sewage from industry effluents, how we can reuse, repurpose, repair, and do so much more and reduce the emissions from the production and consumption industry. And, you know, change that whole attitude of “take, make waste economy”. And then be the most circular economy where we are completely cognizant and responsible of how we are taking from the planet, how we are making. So, what is the composition of what we are making? And how are we not wasting, so we are not sending it back into the natural world in a form that is hazardous to the natural world, and of course, human health, but also not wasting at all. So, taking it back and repurposing it, reusing it.
NDTV: How do you think climate change is linked to health crises like malnutrition, anaemia, and even pandemics?
Dia Mirza: It’s deeply linked; climate change and human health are intertwined. Climate change affects access to clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food, and safe shelter for humans and animals alike, and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health. Climate change, of course, we know causes droughts, floods, heat waves, and other extreme weather events that in turn reduce crop yield and food production. Yes, it causes and leads to malnutrition, especially among vulnerable populations who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and food. And then, of course, malnutrition can increase the risk of infectious diseases and other health problems.
Climate change is also a major factor in disease emergence. And this is something that we’ve not paid enough attention to, and we really need to start focusing on this much more. Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns can create favorable conditions for disease transmission. These changes create and increase the risk of disease outbreaks and pandemics. The more carbon dioxide in the air can translate to the lower nutritional quality of certain greens and legumes. Carbon dioxide in the air can also lead to an increased risk of zinc and iron deficiency among broad sorts of global populations. Climate change can worsen air quality, especially in urban areas. Due to increased heat and changes in weather patterns. I think we can all recognise that statement so well right now, given, you know, an increase in temperatures we have been experiencing, and of course, the levels of pollution we have been experiencing. And, of course, now we all know what air pollution does. It causes respiratory, cardiovascular, and all kinds of diseases.
NDTV: The theme of World Health Day 2023 is ‘Health For All’. How can we achieve this goal and ensure we leave no one behind, given the world is facing both a climate and health crisis?
Dia Mirza: We cannot achieve the goal of health for all unless we ensure no one is left behind in the face of the climate and health crisis. We need to prioritise equitable access to healthcare. We need to promote health education and awareness. We need to strengthen health systems by addressing social determinants of health and promoting sustainable and healthy living practices that we can all implement it at an individual and government level. And, the approaches that we can help guide us to the path to protect human health and well-being in the face of interconnected challenges posed by climate change and health disparities. I think more and more people need to recognise that when you protect fire forests, when you protect biodiversity, when you go clean up beaches, when you refuse single-use plastics, when you are more energy efficient in your consumption, when you just bring more mindful practices to your daily life, you can make a difference.
Also Read: World Health Day 2023: All You Need To Know
NDTV: What are the challenges in environmental conservation in India?
Dia Mirza: There has been a model of development that the Western world adopted that has led us down this path that has brought us to this very, very vulnerable point in history. It is a path of use and waste, a path of destruction and a completely broken relationship with nature where we just kept taking from the natural world without realising that we need to give back to. We as human beings cannot survive, be healthy and have genuine progress if we don’t sustain the natural world and the balance of the natural world. We can’t keep putting carbon in the air and thinking everything is going to be okay. And, this model of development is one that we are continuing in many parts of the world. And that to me is the biggest detriment because unless, and until everyone, everywhere – industries, corporations, individuals, policy, government – starts acting on and responding to the Paris Agreement and saying, the way we build our roads, the way we create businesses, the way we manufacture products, the way we farm, the way we, everything that we do has to be in tandem with the Paris Agreement. And I feel that there is not enough effort being made to act on the Paris Agreement.
NDTV: What can we do about climate change?
Dia Mirza: It first starts with the awareness and consciousness that everything that you use in your everyday life comes from the earth and needs to go back to the earth in a form that is not polluting of the earth and is not harmful to the earth. So, stop to question the ingredients or the composition of your soaps and your cleaning agents at home. Think of the food items that you are eating, where are they coming from? Of course, try and avoid buying and using unnecessarily packaged food; try and ensure your fresh fruits and vegetables are seasonal and local and they are not packaged in plastic. If you can revert to the age-old practice of buying pulses and cereals and greens in wholesale and storing them at home in steel or glass containers like our grandparents used to, you would be making a huge contribution because you would be reducing your plastic waste.
We can all manage our waste scientifically at home – segregate and compost. Be responsible about how you dispose of your e-waste and other items of waste; reduce consumption; fix those leaking taps; ensure you are not wasting electricity or water.
Once you set your mind to it, there are many ways that you can bring about change in your habits, your food habits, the clothes that you wear and the things that you do. One of the things that can aid is helping and supporting civil society organisations that are working towards the protection of and the advocacy for clean air and forests and wildlife.
If you are an investor and, try and allocate your savings and invest in organizations and companies that have sustainable and green practices. Organisations that are innovating products or are doing business that is clean and green in the most genuine sense of the world.
You can listen to the full Banega Swasth India podcast discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. 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 will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that 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 the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.