Climate Change and Health
Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location.
Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
Over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.
In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC. Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850(1).
Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.
These include the following:
Asthma, Respiratory Allergies, and Airway Diseases Cancer Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Effects of Heat Foodborne Diseases and Nutrition Human Developmental Effects Mental Health and Stress-Related Disorders Neurological Diseases and Disorders Vectorborne and Zoonotic Diseases Waterborne Diseases Weather-Related Morbidity and Mortality
Climate change isn’t just bad for the planet’s health—it’s bad for people’s too. Effects will vary by age, gender, geography, and socioeconomic status—and so will remedies. A recent international study in the Lancet says that many more people will be exposed to extreme weather events over the next century than previously thought—“a potentially catastrophic risk to human health” that could undo 50 years of global health gains.
Solutions are in the works. In flood-prone Benin, national health insurance has been expanded to cover diseases likeliest to increase as the world warms and sea levels rise. In the steamy Philippines, programs are helping low-income residents manage weather-related risks with loans, hygiene education, and waste and water control. Meanwhile public health experts everywhere are calling for new measures to help people stay healthy despite floods, droughts, and heat waves.
Power outages in extreme weather could cripple hospitals and transportation systems when we need them most. Crop declines could lead to undernutrition, hunger, and higher food prices. More CO2 in the air could make staple crops like barley and soy less nutritious. Occupational hazards such as risk of heatstroke will rise, especially among farmers and construction workers. Labor could shift to dawn and dusk, times when more disease-carrying insects are out. Hotter days, more rain, and higher humidity will produce more ticks, which spread infectious diseases like Lyme disease. Ticks could be in much of the eastern U.S. by 2080. Trauma from floods, droughts, and heat waves can lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicide. More heat can mean longer allergy seasons and more respiratory disease. More rain increases mold, fungi, and indoor air pollutants. Mosquito-borne dengue fever has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years. Three-quarters of those exposed so far live in the Asia-Pacific region. Senior citizens and poor children—especially those already afflicted with malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea—tend to be most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Drought and chronic water shortages harm rural areas and 150 million city dwellers. If localities don’t adjust quickly, that number could be nearly a billion by 2050. Rising sea levels can threaten freshwater supplies for people living in low-lying areas. More severe storms can cause city sewage systems to overflow.
Regarding the report of Climate change and health
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 13, 2015 - 12:00am
About a year ago our office physician checked some of us for the condition of our lungs. He told me that mine were about 98 percent clean and exceptionally healthy.
I attribute this to being a non-smoker my entire life, living in a part of Metro Manila where there are still a lot of trees, and driving around and working in air-conditioned environments as much as possible to avoid the city’s horrid air pollution.
Millions of other people, however, are forced to inhale that foul air. Metro Manila smog is an equal-opportunity oppressor. From the Skyway over the SLEX, I always see the densest, darkest smog in Metro Manila suspended among the skyscrapers of Makati and neighboring Taguig, as if the particulates are trapped in between the high-rises.
At certain hours, the smog is also heavy at Ground Zero of Manila traffic, the Port Area. There, cargo trucks can sit for hours on end, their engines idling and spewing toxic fumes as they inch their way toward the port to collect or deliver shipments. Unlike in Makati, strong breeze from Manila Bay can lift the smog, but the pollution lingers long enough to be inhaled. Those who are constantly exposed to this foul air probably have blackened lungs.
Measures to use cleaner fuels and reduce those vehicular emissions are among the topics to be discussed at the annual Conference of Parties (COP 21) or the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, which starts later this month in the French capital, shortly after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila.
So alongside preparations for APEC, we are busy preparing for COP 21. Our country is joining others in committing to several initiatives to deal with climate change.
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Whether we can deliver on our commitments remains to be seen. Our government can’t even ease heavy tariffs on hybrid vehicles. Even if environment-conscious Pinoys want to use the popular hybrid Toyota Prius or, for the affluent, the Lexus, the tariffs are prohibitive.
There are e-vehicles around, and who wouldn’t want to use vehicles that mean huge savings in fuel? But they require substantial initial investments. The e-tricycles, for example, cost about three times more than the ordinary one using a regular motorcycle.
Also, e-vehicles and even certain hybrids need a supporting infrastructure that we don’t have.
Biodiesel has become popular among our taxis. But there are also environmental costs in producing biofuels, with forests and natural habitats plus food supplies threatened.
So we’re still stuck with vehicles that run mostly on fossil fuels – with all the pollution that they produce and we inhale. Even with higher emission standards imposed, given the spotty enforcement of the Clean Air Act, that heavy smog in Metro Manila isn’t about to go away any time soon.
We’re also not about to wean ourselves significantly from our dependence on carbon-producing coal for power generation. Industries and commercial establishments have also been slow to switch to environment-friendly technology, even if told that the steep initial investment will prove cost-effective in the long term.
MANILA, Philippines – Does our health suffer because of climate change?
Climate change could cause an additional 25,000 deaths annually from malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, and under-nutrition between 2030 and 2050, the World Health Organization (WHO) reminded countries on Wednesday, November 18.
Malaria and diarrhea are among the "top killers” of children among developing countries, the Unicef said. Undernutrition paired with poor sanitation make children more vulnerable to such preventable and treatable diseases.
Without proper interventions, these children could die.
Likewise, pregnant women and the poor are the most affected by such health threats linked to climate change.
On the upside, the Philippines is winning its battle against malaria, with cases going down from 46,342 in 2005 to 7,720 in 2013, the Department of Health (DOH) reported. In the Philippines, the most vulnerable sectors include upland subsistence farmers, forest workers, and indigenous people – groups whose livelihoods and food security are also deeply impacted by climate change.
Diarrhea, however, remains a problem. It is the 3rd leading cause of child illness and the 4th leading cause of deaths among Filipino children under 5, Unicef reported. (READ: A thirsty PH)
Climate change is causing tens of thousands of deaths annually, WHO said.
In fact, around 7 million people died in 2012 because of air pollution-related diseases – the world’s “largest single environmental health risk.”
Such deaths are attributed to the “shifting patterns of disease from extreme weather events,” like heat waves and floods, as well as the degradation of air quality, sanitation, food and water supplies.
Climate change also results from human activities, as advocates have been repeatedly saying, hence it can be mitigated. Simple climate actions include fighting pollution, saving electricity and water, and using environmentally-friendly products.
Governance and infrastructure are also factors contributing to good or bad health. Areas with weak health infrastructure will have a hard time responding to the health-related impacts of climate change.
WHO’s advisory comes weeks before the much-anticipated international climate change conference in Paris, where world leaders and advocates are expected to come up with a new climate agreement.
The agreement aims to stop the Earth from warming by more than 2°C. This can be achieved if governments pledge to reduce their carbon emissions, among other ways of caring for the environment.
“The upcoming United Nations climate change conference (COP21) in Paris offers the world an important opportunity to not only reach a strong international climate agreement, but also to protect the health of current and future generations,” WHO said in a press statement.
Climate change is closely linked to health. Hence, investing in low-carbon development, clean renewable energy, and climate resilience is also an investment in health, WHO suggested.
“Implementing proven interventions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, like black carbon and methane, for example, achieving higher vehicle emissions and efficiency standards, would be expected to save approximately 2.4 million lives a year and reduce global warming by about 0.5°C by 2050,” it added.
To strengthen “health resilience to climate risks,” countries should improve their early warning systems for heat waves; ensure their water, sanitation, and hygiene protection services against floods and droughts; and give more focus to climate-sensitive diseases.
“If countries take strong actions to address climate change, while protecting and promoting health, they will collectively bring about a planet that is not only more environmentally intact," WHO said, "but also has cleaner air, more abundant and safer freshwater and food, more effective and fairer health and social protection systems – and as a result, healthier people.” – Rappler.com
The term “climate change” evokes images of destruction brought by typhoons and droughts in the minds of most Filipinos. However, the public needs to take notice of how it also affects their health and well-being, even without these extreme events.
“Before your typhoons and tsunamis come, you are already preparing people so whenever it comes, their vulnerabilities are already low. It’s the same principle when it comes to health,” said Dr. Fely Marilyn Lorenzo of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
A hotspot for diseases
“What we have found in the recent past is that climate change exacerbates the conditions that make it more favorable for diseases to set in,” Lorenzo said. “For example, in dengue, the vectors can multiply faster and become fiercer. Even if you have a lot of mosquitoes, if there is no source of infection, there will be very few cases.”
The Philippines has been a dengue hotspot in recent years. Dengue cases in 2015 saw a 64.8 percent increase from the previous year, with a Department of Health (DOH) official attributing it to climate change. While the nationwide tally for the first half of 2017 has decreased by 36.8 percent from the year prior, Metro Manila experienced a 24.9 percent increase in dengue victims.
This spike is linked to the high population density of Metro Manila, which is ideal for transmitting diseases. This is especially evident in poor communities, which suffer from poor hygiene and stagnant water occasionally brought by flooding episodes.
“Before, dengue was only before during the rainy season. But now it isn’t because the water fluctuation in the urban areas is so bad. When there’s stagnant water, then there are more breeding places. Floods bring on leptospirosis, which could be fatal,” she added.
Climate-related health issues become more critical in rural areas, which lack infrastructures and services common in urban areas such as water distribution systems. For instance, the spread of cholera and typhoid fever can be worsened by poor water quality, lack of electricity access, and improper sanitation. In Tacloban, the storm surge due to typhoon Yolanda led to saltwater infiltration of groundwater resource, exposing its inhabitants to water-borne in the chaotic aftermath.
The storm destroyed all but one of the hospitals in the city, paralyzing health care services in already one of the poorest regions in the country. Most of the city’s inhabitants and refugees from nearby towns also get crammed in evacuation centers, creating a favorable environment for the transmission of diseases.
“They have to go to evacuation centers, amassing people in one place for hours and producing a lot of waste,” Lorenzo said. “If you bring people to evacuation centers, there’s a chance that you have some tuberculosis cases there that might spread. Because the healthcare services were decommissioned, for a while, they had a problem with the implementation of other programs.”
Make it “sexy”
Lorenzo identified two key priority areas to increase climate resilience and improve public health: water and sanitation. Due to the complex links surrounding these issues, the national and local government units (LGUs) need to take the lead in a multi-sectoral approach to resolving the health implications of climate change.
“When it comes to health impacts, it’s really the contribution of all of government and all of society. You have to keep the environment safe, that’s DPWH and DENR. You have to provide good water; that’s the role of the water management system officials. You have to give the citizens good income and basic necessities so they won’t get sick,” she remarked.
She also emphasized the need of LGUs, in partnership with the private sector and civil society groups, to increase resilience by implementing adaptation programs, especially for their vulnerable constituencies. “So as much as possible, we don’t want people to go to evacuation centers because it brings up more vulnerabilities for people to get diseases. You need to decrease the vulnerability. Don’t allow them to build houses near shorelines or rivers anymore,” she added.
Reinforcing this preventive approach is strengthening primary health care in the Philippines. Improving the services provided by barangay health centers and municipal hospitals should help ease the load on public hospitals, especially in the provinces.
The administration of Benigno Aquino III was criticized for focusing too much on infrastructure building when the country is also in need of medical personnel on the community level. This lack of investment in human resources is a mistake President Rodrigo Duterte must avoid making for the well-being of all Filipinos.
“If you look at Vietnam, Thailand, and other ASEAN countries, they really improve their primary health care services. If people get sick in the Philippines, especially in urban areas, we immediately go to hospitals. That should not be because you’re clogging up the hospitals and it is too expensive. Other diseases can be treated at the lower levels,” Lorenzo said.
Advocates are pushing for the passage of the Universal Health Coverage bill, which aims to provide access to health care and insurance for all Filipinos. The bill passed through the House of Representatives on September 6 by a vote of 222-7.
Lorenzo also expressed the need for “green hospitals”, or health facilities equipped to deal with environmental factors. “The health centres should already take the variables of temperature and humidity into consideration as they plan health programs. In some of our studies, we found that you can predict the onset of dengue if you keep track of rainfall and temperature patterns,” she said.
She noted that health professionals operate under the belief that “there is no relationship between climate change and health in terms of planning health programs. Right now, we don’t have any system in the health sector that links our epidemiologic statistics to climate factors. It’s going to be easy to track diseases if we’re able to track meteorological parameters and relate the number of certain cases to that.”
Lorenzo also called for perception of climate change and public health to be made “sexy”, or attractive to the public. She remarked that people either do not see its direct link to public health or believe they are powerless to stop it. Improving the network of information between experts and communities can help alter this mentality, noting that “advocacy and getting the information out there is very critical” in effective communication to localities.
In the communal level, she emphasized the importance of neighbors taking a leading role in keeping their areas clean and assisting those prone to diseases. Removing potential sources of diseases should further improve community resilience to both climate hazards and diseases and prevent unnecessary expenses.
“If you take care of them and all of you are well, the probability of getting sick is very low. That is what we have to work for. So those saying that we don’t care about their neighbors is not even selfish; that’s being foolish. Nobody’s really looking at it that way. That’s why we have to take care of the vulnerable,” Lorenzo added.
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