With Around 250,000 Deaths Per Year, Climate Change Is A Deadly Nemesis

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Globally, the amount of reported weather-related natural catastrophes has more than tripled since the 1960s.

In 2014, the WHO declared that climate change would produce with it malaria, diarrhoea, heat stress and malnutrition, killing that many more people yearly around the globe from 2030 to 2050. A research paper, co-authored by Sir Andrew Haines, believes that our health is much more unsafe because of climate change, and he considers 2,50,000 deaths as a “conservative estimation.”

Although global warming may produce some localised advantages, such as lesser winter deaths in warm climates and improved food production in certain areas, the overall health impacts of a dynamic environment are expected to be overwhelmingly adverse. Climate change concerns social and environmental determinants of health such as clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and safe shelter.

Created by Saumya Rastogi

Which communities will be affected the most by climate change?

Natural Disasters

Globally, the amount of reported weather-related natural catastrophes has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters affect in over 60,000 deaths, largely in developing nations. Half of the world’s inhabitants live within 60 km of the sea.

Instances of floods have also been increasing, and increased precipitation is expected to grow during the current century. Floods pollute freshwater supplies, sharpen the risk of water-borne diseases, and form breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes. 

Rising sea levels

The Climate Central research, printed in the journal Nature Communications, suspects cities populated by 36 million Indians now to be in danger of chronic flooding by 2050, much higher than the five million assumed earlier. Globally, the number could be as significant as 300 million people, approximately four times the earlier estimates.

In 2007 alone, floods emanating from monsoon showers killed more than 2,000 persons and uprooted more than 20 million persons in Bangladesh, India, and in Nepal.

In the Himalaya region of South Asia, the incidence of GLOFs (Glacial lake outburst floods) increased from 1950 to 2000, and GLOFs have transpired lately in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bhutan.

Infections Due To Flood

Climatic conditions significantly affect water-borne infections and diseases carried through insects, snails or other cold-blooded creatures. Variations in climate are destined to extend the transmission seasons of major vector-borne diseases and to modify their geographic area. For example, climate change is predicted to widen significantly the territory of China, where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis transpired. 

Image Credit: Getty Images

Faecal-oral transmission of diseases is of special interest in regions such as South-Asia because of limited access to clean drinking water and sanitation. In developing nations, an uptick in diarrhoeal disease, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid is of special concern. For example, after flooding in West Bengal in 1988, cholera was believed to be the cause of an outbreak of diarrhoea that ended in 276 deaths.

Flooding can also continue to increase vector and rodent-borne infectious diseases. For instance, accumulations of stagnant water produce breeding spots for mosquitoes, perhaps aiding in the spread of malaria. Other researches have associated flooding in Bangladesh and parts of India with breaks of rotavirus and leptospirosis.

Increase In Temperatures

Extreme high air temperatures add directly to mortality from a cardiovascular and respiratory infection, especially among older adults. In the of summer 2003 in Europe, for instance, higher than 70,000 excess deaths were reported High temperatures also increase the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that worsen the cardiovascular and respiratory infection.

Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also more powerful in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which afflicts around 300 million people. Continuous temperature increases are presumed to increase this load.

Populations At Risk

All communities will be affected by climate change, but some are more exposed than others. People residing in small islands, developing countries, and coastal areas, megacities, and mountainous, and polar regions are especially vulnerable.

Poverty in India
Children of road workers near Rishikesh, India. Credits- Wiki wand

Children living in developing countries are among the most unsafe to the resulting health hazards and are vulnerable because of the health consequences. The health effects are also foreseen to be more rigorous for the elderly and people with illnesses or pre-existing medical ailments.

Areas with weak health infrastructure, primarily in developing countries, will be the least able to cope without support to adapt and respond.

Several records prove that the poorest people, already experiencing the highest rates of undernutrition, will be the most vulnerable to climate change. Indian agriculture and thereby India’s food production is extremely vulnerable to climate change largely because the sector stays highly sensitive to monsoon variability.

About 65% of India’s cropped area is rain-fed. With its large population and rapid rate of urbanisation, India may encounter multiple health and nutrition threats owing to climate change.

India is one of the top rankers in various forms of malnutrition globally. With only about one in 10 children getting sufficient nutrition, we ought to keep other potentially influential to health and nutrition variables promising.

Many reasons are adding to the poor nutritional status of our people, traversing from food scarcity to (unhealthy) food surplus, raised consumption of refined cereals, simple sugars and salt, etc. However, unfavourable variables like climate change, pollution, added to this situation can further catalyse plunging of the public health nutrition (PHN) tables.

Climate change and poverty index
Source: World Bank report, “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty”, www.worldbank.org/climate

Risks For India

Around 1.5 million people may die in India each year due to severe heat by 2100, new research has found. The survey led by Tata Centre for Development at the University of Chicago, USA said that sustained high emissions of greenhouse gases are predicted to lead to a 4-degree Celsius rise in medium annual temperature in India by 2100. 

India felt its second-longest heatwave, with temperatures touching 50.8°C in July 2019. It was the hottest month on record globally. 

The projected death rate is approximately as high as the prevailing death rate from all contagious diseases in India today. Six states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, are expected to witness more than half of the rising death rate from increasing temperatures.

Children with their containers are silhouetted against the sun as they wait to fill drinking water from a water tanker provided by the state-run Delhi Jal (water) Board on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India, May 11, 2015. Temperature in Delhi on Monday reached 42.3 degree Celsius (108.14 degree Fahrenheit), according to India’s metrological department website. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee – RTX1CFYJ

Expert Views

Amir Jina of the Climate Impact Lab said that having seen 2,500 deaths due to a heatwave in 2015, the future is forecasted to be even more devastating if India and the world do not change the path to alleviate the harmful impacts of climate change. “If the world pledges to the Paris Agreement and frequently updates its responsibilities, the study evaluates India’s excess death rate from high heat will be cut more than 80%,” he further stated.

The study was issued as India’s energy usage is suspected to more than double by 2040, with fossil fuels serving as the primary source. The country’s 5% rise in coal demand last year contributed to a nearly equal portion in its carbon emissions.

India is currently the world’s third-largest carbon emitter.

Michael Greenstone, faculty leader at the Tata Centre and a co-founder of the Climate Impact Lab, stated that the continued dependence on fossil fuels would hurt India in the years to come.

Possible Solutions

Awareness is required to render and distribute information on the consequences of climate change on human health, and opportunities to improve health while decreasing carbon emissions. More scientific studies and evidence will help to create links between climate change and health and promote a global research plan.

Additionally, the most vulnerable groups should seek assistance and be supported by the developing nations and governments around the world by target-based prevention and mitigation of risks.

ClimateChange

In developed countries, flood control efforts, sanitation infrastructure, and monitoring activities to identify and regulate outbreaks reduce disease risks created by flooding are crucial. Using food technologists to devise food storage and processing methods can decrease climate-related food safety matters and assist in maintaining the nutritional value of foods. These policies can also help in decreasing food waste.

Developing and strengthening the ability of public health professionals and allied forces can be utilised for the prevention and management of climate change-related problems. Raising the number of healthcare facilities and staff can promote access to healthcare for exposed populations, mainly the rural poor.

Editor’s note: Do you want to know where India stands in the Human Development Index (2019)? You can access the report, released on December 9 (2019), here.

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