Climate Change is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century. Health is and will be affected by changes in climate through direct impacts (heat waves, droughts, severe storms, and sea level rise) and indirect impacts (respiratory and vector-borne diseases, food insecurity, and of water, malnutrition, and forced displacement).
– Climate change is not just a problem for future generations, it is already happening. Higher average temperatures are recorded each year, and more people are affected by disasters, weather-sensitive diseases, and other health conditions.
– Climate change exacerbates some health threats and creates new public health challenges. Worldwide, looking at just a few health indicators, an additional 250,000 deaths per year will occur in the coming decades as a result of climate change.
– The health sector has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of climate change. Investments must be made in “green” healthcare facilities, with the use of solar panels, energy-efficient equipment, and waste management. Globally, only about 0.5% of multilateral climate finance has been attributed to health projects.
– Health care facilities also need to be safe and operational during and after disasters. In Latin America, 67% of healthcare facilities are located in disaster-prone areas. In the last decade, 24 million people were left without access to health care for months due to infrastructure damage.
INJURIES, ILLNESSES, AND DEATHS FROM EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS
More common and long-lasting heat waves in different regions of the world. Excess mortality and increased heat exhaustion
Aggravation of circulatory and respiratory diseases
Greater suffering for indigenous and traditional peoples
Health losses caused by disasters such as storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods
Indirect effects through natural systems
RESPIRATORY DISEASES AND ALLERGENS:
Aggravation of asthma and other allergic respiratory diseases from exposure to aeroallergens
Greater cardiopulmonary mortality due to the presence of particles and the high atmospheric concentration of highly toxic ozone
FOOD AND WATERBORNE DISEASES:
Increased risk of waterborne diseases, between 8-11% risk of diarrhea in the tropics and subtropics
Increased growth, survival, persistence, and transmission of pathogenic microbes
Changing geographic and seasonal distribution of diseases such as cholera, schistosomiasis, and harmful algal blooms
Warmer weather will increase the reproduction, resilience, and distribution of vector-borne diseases. It is estimated that the additional number of people infected with malaria throughout the year in South America will rise from 25 million in 2020 to 50 million by 2080.
Indirect effects through socioeconomic systems
FOOD AND WATER INSECURITY, AND MALNUTRITION:
Increased risk of malnutrition due to falling food production (especially in the tropics) and less access to it
Combined effects of malnutrition and infectious diseases
Chronic effects of growth retardation and infant wasting
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND VULNERABLE GROUPS:
Decreased work capacity, risk of heat exhaustion, cardiac arrest, and more frequent workplace accidents for those who work outdoors
Greater suffering for older people, children, and people living in poor environments, and for indigenous and traditional populations
MENTAL ILLNESS AND STRESS:
Increased stress in all mental patients and a degree of stress sufficient to contract a mental illness for those who do not yet suffer from it, for example, reactive anxiety, depression, aggression, complex psychopathies, a sense of loss
How can we act?
As we become more aware of the impact of climate change on our health, there is hope that action will be taken to change the future.
The Agreement obliges countries to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists and activists offer solutions to mitigate the risks. Governments are determined to act, and quickly. There is hope.
But if urgent action is not taken, human health will continue to be negatively affected by climate change. And the fate of future generations looks bleak.