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Climate change to have grim health fallout

Published on May 19, 2022

According to WHO, climate change will cause around 250 000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress between the years 2030 and 2050

Saadia Azim

In April 2022, when the world was readjusting to pandemic after-effects, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave an SOS call. It wasn’t about any new variant of the pandemic virus but rather a call for speedy action to combat the climate crisis. WHO declared that the human-induced climate crisis is the “single biggest health threat facing humanity now,”, particularly with increased conflict and fragility.

On its foundation day, in its resolve to call for action, WHO pointed out that 99 percent of people breathe unhealthy air globally, mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels. A heated world witnesses mosquitoes-borne diseases further and faster than ever before. Additionally, the WHO manifesto explains that Climate Change affects the social and environmental determinants of health, such as clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secured shelter. And Climate Change will cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress between the years 2030 and 2050.

In its sixth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC Working Group II) – Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, also gave a dire warning for inaction. “Our actions today will shape how people adapt, and nature responds to increasing climate risks,” Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, said while releasing its report in February 2022.

As a direct consequence, countries like India witnessed unforeseen heatwave levels in the last two months. Extreme weather situations such as heat stress, rain, and cyclone lead to biodiversity loss, land degradation, and water scarcity and are displacing people to a large extent.

The WHO report elaborates that since pollution and plastics have entered the human food chain and bloodstream, those systems that produce highly processed, unhealthy foods and beverages make people obese and increase their risks of cancer and heart diseases. Also, such systems are adding up to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the health and social crisis compromise people’s ability to control their health and lives.

Scientists and researchers have a growing consensus that this emergency condition has increased the risks for vulnerable communities, although they contribute less to carbon emissions. Climate change increases vector-borne and water-borne diseases, undernutrition, mental disorders, and allergic diseases in Asia by increasing hazards such as heatwaves, flooding, drought, air pollutants, and more exposure and vulnerability. In addition to all-cause mortality, deaths related to circulatory, respiratory, diabetic, and infectious disease and infant mortality increase with high temperature.

“The climate crisis is a health crisis. The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus marking the organization’s foundation day on April 7, 2022. “We need transformative solutions to wean the world off its addiction to fossil fuels, reimagine economies and societies focused on well-being, and safeguard the health of the planet on which human health depends.”

Although 6000 cities in 117 countries now monitor air quality, the people still breathe unhealthy air and nitrogen dioxide. and those in low and middle-income countries tend to suffer the highest exposure.

The  WHO thus calls for policy action to ensure a healthy and green recovery from the pandemic. It prescribes protecting and preserving nature as the source of human health; investing in essential services such as water, sanitation, clean energy, and healthcare facilities; ensuring a quick and healthy energy transition; promoting healthy and sustainable food systems; building healthy and liveable cities; and stopping the use of taxpayers’ money to fund pollution.

With its World Health Day campaign, WHO now calls on governments, organizations, corporations, and people to share the actions that they are taking to protect the planet and human health.