Impactsof Climate Change on Human Health
Thehealth of human beings and environment are strongly interrelated. Thedisruption of an environment has devastating effects on human healthboth directly and indirectly. Environment alteration has resulted tounprecedented levels of emergence of diseases which causes severefuture impacts on the health of humankind. Some of the common healthproblems that man faces today are greatly attributed to environmentmodification. One of the most disastrous environmental issues in theworld today is climate change. Typically, climate change is caused byaccumulation of green house gases in the air and land degradationprocesses such as deforestation. It is a current environmental globalissue that draws much attention from various disciplines. Climatechange affects human health through various pathways such asincreased floods and droughts, increased heat intensity, and hightemperatures among other indirect pathways. Environmentalists andother researchers indicate that the extremes in weather affect theecosystem and the biodiversity in which human rely in for health. Assuch, climate change is a potential hazard of human health.1
Healthimpacts of climate change
Oneof the most disastrous effects of climate change is the occurrence offloods. This may have a direct impact of health by causing immediatephysical injuries, and long term effects such as morbidity andmortality. Climate change may lead to sudden and unpredictable rapidfloods, which consequently causes immediate deaths through drowningto some. Although this is not common, there are many cases in whichmany people have died out of drowning in a case of a flood. Themajority of those affected by a rapid and sudden flood may end upwith multiple injuries. For instance, the flood that occurred inBiescas Spain in 1996 caused 86 deaths due to the formed stream andmud that covered the campsite. In other cases, there are severalreports of fatalities caused by many slow rise flood events. Forinstance, in central Europe, the flooding in rivers Rhine, Danube,Meuse, and Elbe have been causing fatalities over time. In 1997, forexample, the river floods in central Europe killed over 100 peoplewhile it left over 200,000 people without a home. Similarly, anotherriver flood in Dresden Germany in 2002 left the city without waterfor many days. This affected the four main hospitals in the affectedareas. By the time this went into press, more than 1300 deaths hadoccurred, and approximately 2000 injuries. 2
Floodingincreases may either lead to mobilization of hazardous chemicals fromstorage or remobilization of those already in the environment such aspesticides. These chemicals maybe deposited in the rivers and leftthere for long periods. When human beings drink this water, they arelikely to develop health conditions. Humans may also consume thesechemicals through crops that take in these chemicals. Although thereis a gap in this research, the effects on human health cannot beignored.3
Followedprolonged periods of droughts increases incidences of various typesof diseases. In both countries of high and low incomes, incidences ofrespiratory diseases and diarrhoea are high. This is more so inovercrowded areas of the displaced populations. In case ofindustrialized countries, these incidences may be less commonhowever, displacement may lead to severe economic problems such asdepression, anxiety, and mental disorders in the long run. Thesedisorders are greatly related to damages in home environment andeconomic losses, which may persist more than a year after theiroccurrence. On the other hand, increased vulnerabilities ofpopulations in the low income areas may be caused by presence ofunlimited public health and the damage of local economies, which isproportionately higher than in the developed economies.4
Dueto climate change, periods of floods are closely followed byprolonged periods of drought. On a short term basis, the effects ofdroughts on human health include those that are caused by watercontamination and scarcity. Some of the conditions caused by droughtsinclude dehydration, which is caused by lack of enough liquidintakes. Diarrhoea, which is caused by microorganisms and watercontaminants, is also common among the children. Drought also affectspregnant women because of lack of adequate nutrient and calorieintakes that results from food shortages. This leads to poor maternalhealth and consequently problems in the development of fetus. Bothadults and children suffer from malnutrition diseases and a lowerimmune system, which increases the chances of acquiring diseasescaused by fungi, virus, bacteria, parasitic infections, and worm. Theother lifelong impacts of malnutrition in early childhood includestunting, poor cognitive developments, psychiatric illnesses,physical manifestation of malnutrition, and various metabolicdiseases.5
Thecombination of malnutrition diseases is responsible for highmortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa and other low income countries.Poor immune system results to several diseases such as malaria, whichis a great killer of children in the low income countries. Othercommon diseases such as diarrhoea cause dehydration or rather loss offluids in the body. Intestinal worm infestations may also contributeto nutrient, iron, and micronutrient losses in low income countries.Intestinal worms are a great cause of morbidity and child mortality.It is highly associated with low protein intakes and people withanemia conditions. Regular de worming is highly advised in droughtstricken areas. Other conditions caused by malnutrition includekwashiorkor, chronic diarrhoea, and mucosal immunity. These arecaused greatly by lack of micronutrients such as zinc, copper,selenium, iron, and other minerals. 6
Thelow moisture and precipitation characterized by droughts can causewildfires across the forests, farm lands, and areas of settlements.Usually, wildfires cause hazardous conditions such as deaths orinjuries of several people. It may also lead to economic losses andshrinking of food suppliers hence, more hunger and famine. Thisincreases malnutrition conditions and other conditions associatedwith hunger and famine.7
Extremehigh temperatures contribute significantly to cardiovascular andrespiratory diseases especially among the elderly population. Forexample, the heat wave that occurred in Europe in 2003 is blamed forexcessive deaths of more than 70,000 individuals. High temperaturesraise the level of ozone and pollutants in the air that aggravaterespiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Further, pollen and otherallergen levels increase with extreme heat.8These can trigger asthma that affects millions of people in theworld. Ongoing temperature increases will heighten the burdenfurther. It is expected that if proper mitigation measures are notput in place, the temperatures will continue to increase to dangerouslevels.9
Increasesin temperatures also lead to melting of ice that consequently leadsto rise in sea levels. The continuous increase in sea levels willdestroy several homes and essential infrastructures such as medicalfacilities. It is estimated that millions of people around the worldlives within the 60km of the sea. Therefore, if the sea levels rises,there will be a high likelihood of displacing people and increasetheir vulnerability to health complications such as communicablediseases and mental disorders. The other notable thing aboutincreases in temperatures is the decrease in staple food productionparticularly those that require cool temperatures. This contributesto malnutrition and hence the likelihood of increase in diseases.10
Thevariable in rainfall patterns affects the supply of freshwater.11Clean water is essential for human consumption and domestic uses.Thus, decrease in the availability of freshwater means that therewill be greater competition for freshwater resources. Extremetemperatures and changes in rainfall pattern leads to depletion ofwater resources. Lack of freshwater increases unhygienic conditionsand the risk of diarrhoea diseases, which kills several people.Unhygienic conditions such as lack of water to wash hands or washother essential domestic facilities may increase the chances foracquisition of diseases brought about by dirt.
Changesin climate enhance the spread of some various diseases such as foodborne, waterborne, and animal borne diseases.12High temperatures increase the chances for salmonella and otherbacteria related food poisoning. This occurs because increasedtemperatures create a sound environment for bacteria growth. Insevere cases, these diseases increase gastrointestinal distress oreven death. On the other hand, heavy rainfall and flooding can causeoverflow of sewerage plants into freshwater bodies. This contaminatescertain food crops with pathogens carried in feces. Waterbornediseases are also common in case of high rainfall and flooding. Waterborne parasites may be found in drinking water. Likewise, runoff maycontaminate water bodies with bacteria, which leads to illnesses suchas gastroenteritis, headaches, inflammation of the stomach, fever,and vomiting. The geographic range of ticks is limited totemperatures. As the temperature increases, the range of tickscontinues and expands northwards. These ticks are responsible forrhyme diseases, which causes symptoms such as headache, fatigue,fever, and characteristic skin rash.
Mitigationmeasures and potential impacts
Climatechange impacts negatively on the environment and the human health.Every day of inaction leads further and further to climate changemaking it more irreversible. The major causes of climate change areincreases in greenhouse emissions and forests deteriorations.Environmentalists claim that there is need to mitigate factorsleading to climate change rather than waiting till it is too late.This can be achieved by shifting towards a greener economy andconserving the environment. Several environmental agencies have beenformed to advocate for a more energy efficient economy that aims atintroducing low carbon technologies. People also need to promote useof renewable energies to minimize the emissions of carbon dioxide andother greenhouse gases. Industries that emit a lot of green housegases should also put measures to reduce their emissions.13
Theother major focus of reducing climate change is advocatingforestation programs to help minimize the impacts of carbon dioxide.Further, forests regulate the climate of an area making itpotentially beneficial to all. Deforestation has significantlyfacilitated climate change in various ways. People have encroachedforests to make land for farming or rather for timber production andother timber related commercial products. Measures to conserve theexisting forests have been put in place to ensure that the existingforests are not encroached further. 14
Measuresto curb climate change helps in reducing million cases of diseases inthe world today. Natural disasters such as floods and droughts, whicharea aggravated by climate change can be reduced greatly if measuresto curb climate change are put in place. This would help in reducingmillion cases of diseases caused by disaster related cases. Disasterssuch as floods and droughts are responsible for many deaths andinjuries. They also cause several diseases caused by both short andlong term effects of these disasters.15Climate change is caused by human activities and hence it can bemitigated by employing the right mechanisms. It is time people wokeup to the reality that climate change is indeed dangerous to thehealth of all, even those who do not contribute. In fact, the burdenis more for the poorer people who may have not contributed to climatechange at all. It is only wise for the greatest contributors ofclimate change to change the trend to make the world a healthy placeto live in.
Itis vivid that climate change, a major environmental issue, isresponsible for several cases of deaths and diseases. Most of thehealth effects of climate change are devastating even though peoplemay not realize it because some are indirect. Environmentalists andhealth researchers indicate that climate change has claimed severallives so far and will continue to do so if the mitigation measuresare not put in place. Some of the most common diseases such as healthrelated mortality and morbidity, cardiovascular diseases, waterbornediseases, food borne diseases, human developmental problems, vectorborne asthma and respiratory diseases are all aggravated by climatechange in various ways. There is still a lot that needs to be done topromote green economies in order to achieve both environmental andhealth goals.16
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