Pakistan is in the list of ten most vulnerable countries to the effects of Climate Change. Floods, drought, extreme temperatures, and changes in climatic patterns not only cause economic upheavals and loss of human lives, but exacerbate the damage caused in the form of breakouts and chronic diseases. Lack of proper healthcare, sanitation and basic resources further increase the susceptibility to diseases. Climate Change, it seems, has descended upon us with a plan.
According to Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan, reported in a Dawn news report, people living in urban areas of Pakistan, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar are more at risk because of increasing air and water pollution. Particularly vulnerable are the children and the elderly. The World Health Organization report on Pakistan states that in the coming years, there will be increased number of cases of avian influenza, malaria, cholera and dengue fever.
Some of the ailments that have increased because of climate change and rising pollution levels are malaria, lung cancer and respiratory diseases like asthma, skin problems, and other chronic diseases. A study by a team of experts from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, states that rapidly increasing heat stress due to climate change has a profound effect on human health and causes many diseases. Malaria is a very prevalent and infectious disease in Pakistan. Variations in the climatic conditions are conducive for mosquito breeding and their reproduction. Standing water bodies caused by floods and increased rainfall serve as favorable mosquito habitats.
The aftermath of the 2011 floods in the country saw an outbreak of communicable diseases according to World Health Organization report. After the massive floods, the flood victims were drastically prone to contracting diarrhea, cholera, malaria, acute respiratory infections and skin diseases due to poor hygienic conditions.
The adverse impact of Climate Change on human health is not limited to rural areas alone. Year 2015 saw a deadly heatwave grip the metropolitan city of Karachi and its outskirts, resulting in a death toll exceeding 1000, according to Dawn News report. These frequent heat waves in the region cause severe rashes, cramps, exhaustion and dehydration, a common cause of hyperthermia and death among infants. A study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), reveals that by 2100, parts of South Asia could become uninhabitable due to rising temperatures brought about by Climate Change. The areas that are likely to be among worst affected include Northern India, Southern Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh, home to 1.5 billion people. If the study materializes into reality, millions of people will be forced to migrate due to unbearable temperatures, that will also adversely affect agriculture and livestock. Heatwaves in the South Asian region have already killed hundreds of people, with a death toll of 3500 in 2015 alone. The future offers a grim picture unless we take drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact.
Coal powered stations not only release greenhouse gases in the environment, but also emit tiny airborne particles of heavy metals that can cause respiratory and lung diseases, eye infections and various skin ailments. Yet, coal is a widely used fuel for generating power in South Asia. New coal power stations continue to be planned, according to this report from environmental organization, Greenpeace. Pollutants emitted from coal based power stations are thus projected to triple by 2030. A recent report by US based organization, The State of Global Air, reveals that China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are prone to the most extreme levels of air pollution. This is gravely affecting the health of people, as the air is full of toxic pollutants that cause fatal diseases. A study done by Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, USA, finds Particulate Matter (PM) size of 2.5 micrometers to be the fifth largest factor contributing to global mortality. PM 2.5 is emitted by coal-fired power plants as mentioned in this study by International Energy Agency (IEA).
Food scarcity is one of the serious impacts of climate change in the world. Millions of children are vulnerable to contracting ailments as a direct result of climate change, including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition. Malnutrition is responsible for half of worldwide deaths of children under five years of age.
The grave impact of climate change, rising pollution levels in the air and water demand strict actions on our part. The world needs to realize priorities before climate change renders all remedial action useless, and shift to cleaner energy and greener practices to save the environment. Mitigation strategies like early flood warning systems, preventive measures against dehydration during severe heatwaves, and proper sanitation and hygiene facilities are essential to lessen the drastic impacts on human health. The impacts of climate change will not stay restricted to a few regions – not for long. The effects will reverberate throughout our biosphere. We are in this together. And the earlier we realize, the better chance we have at saving our generations to come.