Sunday, March 15, 2009

Health impacts of climate change need attention, says WHO The health impact of climate change is a critical issue that policy-makers should be aware of while setting priorities for action and investment to mitigate the impact of global climate change. This is the key message that WHO experts delivered at the Climate Change Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions conference in Copenhagen. Building on research, WHO has identified three key health arguments for stronger climate change measures:

1. Climate change has adverse consequences for health: as carbon goes up health goes down – WHO and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data identify risks to human health as a serious signal of the consequences of climatic disruption of this planet’s natural processes which we depend on for food, water, and physical safety. Health hazards from climate change are diverse, global and difficult to reverse over human time scales. … Based on WHO estimates around 150,000 deaths now occur in low-income countries each year due to climate change from four climate-sensitive health outcomes – crop failure and malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease, malaria and flooding. Almost 85% of these excess deaths are in young children.

2. Reducing green house gases emissions can be beneficial to health: as carbon goes down health goes up – Feasible improvements in environmental conditions could reduce the global disease burden by more than 25%. A large part of the current burden is linked to energy consumption and transport systems. Changing these systems to reduce climate change would have the added benefit of addressing some major public health issues, including outdoor air pollution (800 000 annual global deaths); traffic accidents (1.2 million annual deaths); physical inactivity (1.9 million deaths); and indoor air pollution (1.5 million annual deaths).

3. The health impacts of climate change are felt unequally: effective response requires global action – Whether it’s the 70 000 excess deaths from the heat wave in Europe in 2003, or new malarial deaths in the central African highlands, the people at greatest risk for climate-related health disorders and premature deaths are the poor, the geographically vulnerable, the very young, women and the elderly. The populations considered to be at greatest risk are those living in small island developing states, mountainous regions, water-stressed areas, megacities and coastal areas in developing countries (particularly the large urban agglomerations in delta regions in Asia), and also poor people and those lacking access to health services…

A corbel with a sculpted caduceus, on the façade of a building at 9th Calle de Antonio Maura in Madrid. Shot by Luis García, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

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