Health hazards demand stronger climate change measures, argues UN agency

Lower precipitation due to climate change causes water scarcity and reduced food production

11 March 2009 – Policymakers should consider the threat climate change poses to public health in setting their priorities for action and investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations health agency told a conference in Copenhagen.

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the health dimension of the issue at the three-day Climate Change Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions conference, which ends tomorrow.

Based on research, WHO estimates that around 150,000 deaths now occur in low-income countries each year, with young children making up almost 85 per cent of these excess deaths, due to the effect climate change has on crop failure and malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease, malaria and flooding.

Health hazards from climate change are diverse, global and difficult to reverse, according to WHO. They range from increased risk to safety from extreme weather events, to the effects of global warming on infectious disease and sea level rises leading to salinization of land and water sources.

The agency contends that feasible improvements to the environment could reduce the burden on global disease, a large part of which is caused by energy consumption and transport systems, by more than 25 per cent.

Outdoor air pollution accounts for 800,000 deaths annually around the world, traffic accidents for 1.2 million, physical inactivity for 1.9 million and indoor air pollution for 1.5 million, noted a press release issued by WHO.

“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,” WHO said.

The populations WHO considered to be at greatest risk are those living in small island developing States, mountainous regions, areas with poor access to water, huge cities and coastal areas in developing countries, as well as poor people and those lacking access to health services.


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