April 7, 2008
World Health Day, this year, embodies the theme, 'Protect Health from Climatic Change'.
It marks the anniversary of the World Health Organization, commemorating its 60th year of unflinching commitment to the establishment of global health.
Each year, The World Health Day, seeks to attract worldwide attention on imminent public health challenges facing the world. Global warming and its causative factors is a growing preoccupation amongst world bodies, owing to its impact on the global landscape and health of the population.
The initiatives of the World Health Day, 2008, hope to explore the strategies required to protect health of population worldwide from the ravages of climatic changes.
Understanding Impact of Climatic Changes on Health
It is common to expect that the natural outcome of industrialization is a booming economy which in turn could offer better health to populations worldwide. On the contrary, the cost of industrialization is heavy, resulting in a gush of green house emissions that can potentially trigger dramatic environmental changes. These changes have the potential to have a negative impact on health.
Recently, the Arctic and Antarctic regions in the world have been witness to an increase in surface temperatures. This has resulted in the warming of the permafrost and melting of sea ice. A recent study undertaken to study the effects of global warming on climatic zones with the help of global climate models has forecast the complete disappearance of tropical highlands and areas near the poles in the next century. Such models portend that 39% of the land on the earth is likely to experience completely new climates by 2100. This is thought to have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
The most severely affected parts is predicted to be the thickly populated regions in the world, for instance the South Eastern parts of United States, South Eastern Asia and parts of Africa. The areas famous for its biodiversity like the Amazonian rainforest, the mountain ranges of Africa and South America are also likely to face striking ecological shifts propelled by climatic changes.
The risks to health are innumerable with world population witnessing heat waves, wild fires, floods and unprecedented swings in the pattern of infectious diseases. According to the WHO, 25% of the world's disease is due to contamination of air, food, water and soil caused by dramatic changes in climate.
For instance global warming can make tropical regions warmer. This could potentially steer the animal life and vegetation northwards, spawning the growth of vector-borne diseases in otherwise unheard of regions. This could endanger the health of about 70 million people, who may end up living in malaria-prone areas.
Heat connected deaths, infectious diseases, pollution-related diseases and malnutrition is predicted to witness an upward trend due to climatic changes. Climatic shifts may also have a negative effect on world food supplies as they are crucially dependent on the nature of soil, climate and water. It is becoming increasingly evident that even a few degrees of alteration in temperature can create a rippling effect. The 2004 heat wave in Europe, that claimed as many as 30,000 lives, offers just a peek into the magnitude of destruction unleashed by the effects of climatic changes on human health.
AL Gore, a keen environmental activist, former Vice President of the United States and the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner for 'Disseminating the effects of human-induced climatic changes on Global health' has sounded a clarion call for immediate measures at the national and international level to control man-made triggers that can adversely affect the global climate.
Professor McMichael from the Public Health department of The Australian National University summing up the effects of climatic change said, "Climate change is beginning to damage our natural life-support system."
The clear connection between good environment and health is being recognized worldwide and all forms of development need to focus on this relationship to realize sustainable progress. Though, it may not be possible for societies to completely insulate themselves from the effects of climatic change, yet strategies can be employed to mitigate its impact on health.
It is imperative that endeavours at the national and international level look at ways to control the increasing levels of green house emissions with a motive to retard the climatic changes, and parallely evolve strategies to mitigate its effect on disease and injury.
Health problems that spark large-scale destruction can be offset if effective warning systems capable of detecting impending climatic changes are put in place. This coupled with a clear action plan for tackling such threats could help reduce the destruction caused by sudden climatic changes. For instance, if the powerful El-Nino events that cause heavy rainfall in South West of America can be predicted, it could avert the health epidemics caused by the unprecedented increase in rodent population, enabling sufficient time to protect homes from rodent invasion.
Development of strategies to improve infrastructure, drainage systems and compensate for inefficiencies in watershed protection can help cut the risk of water contamination events. Health officials need to plan for major health crises sparked off by heat waves, floods and famine. The secret clearly lies in advance detection, warning and effective plan to respond to climatic changes and its impact on health.