Climate Change and Public Health

climate-change-public-healthClimate change is now a major universal challenge and needs urgent attention. The impacts of climate change are not only restricted to the physical and climatological events like changing weather patterns, heavy rainfalls, floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, heat stress, food and water shortages etc. but also has a major impact on individual and public health.

Climate change is severely affecting the social and environmental determinants of health including clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. It is assessed that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year including 60,000 deaths from Malaria, 38,000 due to heat exposure, 48,000 due to diarrhoea and 95,000 from malnutrition.

The growing poor air quality in urban areas is increasing due to industrial and vehicular emissions, burning coal from power plants thereby producing smog. Air pollution causes some 4.3 million deaths every year. The direct damage cost to health is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030. It is assessed that due to weak health infrastructure, developing countries will be the worst affected.

Rising GHG levels are triggering climate and environmental changes that are affecting human health through heat stress, crop failure, altered weather patterns, injuries, displacement, homelessness, ocean acidification, mass migration, economic disruption, malnutrition, social unrest, aquaculture failure, spread of infectious diseases etc.

Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries. Extreme temperatures are directly contributing to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe, more than 70,000 excess deaths were recorded. High temperatures also are triggering asthma, which affects around 300 million people.

Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events may destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world’s population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move to safer areas creating health impacts ranging from mental disorders to communicable diseases.

The impact of climate change on mental health is a major consideration. People who have survived droughts, floods, tropical storms and similar extreme weather events often lose their homes and their families. As a result, they can experience post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression and other mental health problems.

Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills approximately 760,000 children aged under 5, every year. Floods are also increasing in frequency and can contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.

People living in small island developing states and other coastal regions like Bahrain are particularly more vulnerable to climate change impacts. The concerned authorities are planning mitigation measures, strategies, ways and means how to handle any eventualities of any disaster that can struck due to climate change by controlling and decreasing the amount of carbon emissions and enhancing cleaner production.

Rehan Ahmed

Rehan Ahmed is the Head of Waste Disposal Unit at Supreme Council for Environment, Kingdom of Bahrain. He has over thirty four years of professional experience on projects related to waste management, recycling, reuse and recovery & environmental impacts assessments. Rehan has been instrumental in construction, development, operation and management of Hafira industrial landfill site and establishment of healthcare waste treatment facility in Bahrain.

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