Everything You've Never Wanted to Hear About Global Warming and Human Health
- ENVIRONMENT: RIPPLES OF GLOBAL WARMING SPREAD OUTWARD
by Barbara Litzlbeck
Friday, 4 November 2005
NEW YORK (IPS) - Human health and the earth's ecosystems are
increasingly threatened by climate change, warns a new study jointly
released by three leading environmental organisations here this week.
"Climate Change Futures", by the Centre for Health and the Global
Environment at Harvard Medical School, the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) and Swiss Re, a private health insurance company
based in Switzerland, says that adverse health impacts are likely to
cause severe economic consequences.
"Global climate change and the ripples of that change will affect
every aspect of life, from municipal budgets for snowplowing to the
spread of disease," the report says. For example, the effects of
hurricanes "can extend far beyond coastal properties to the heartland
through their impact on offshore drilling and oil prices".
Human health is affected worldwide by diseases driven by climate
change, according to the authors of the report. "Health is the final
common pathway of all that we see around us," says Paul Epstein,
associate director of the Centre for Health and the Global
Environment, who contributed to the report.
Epstein says malaria has become the most dangerous disease following
natural disasters, because warming and extreme weather spur the
breeding cycles of mosquitoes, which carry the malaria parasite.
"For human health, malaria is clearly danger number one, killing
3,000 African children every day," he told IPS. "This is a dramatic
increase from the 1950s and '60s, when we thought we could control
and contain this disease and the numbers were really dipping."
Malaria is spreading increasingly in highland areas in Africa. Before
the 1970s, cold temperatures became freezing at high altitudes and
thus limited mosquito populations to lower areas. Today, increased
warmth has caused mountain glaciers to shrink in the tropics,
permitting some mosquitoes to migrate higher in the mountains.
For 1999, the report estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, the total
cost of malaria can be valued at between 5.8 17.4 percent of Gross
National Product. Malaria has also been shown to decrease economic
growth in some countries by 1.3 percent per year.
In addition, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and asthma are also on the
rise. "Carbon dioxide is affecting the plants, spores and fungi. (It
has) an impact on public health that we had not even thought of
several years ago," says Epstein. "In the U.S. alone, asthma
prevalence has quadrupled since 1980, which costs the American
taxpayer up to 18 billion dollars a year."
Although industrialised countries produce the most greenhouse gases
blamed for global warming, the study points out that developing
countries suffer the worst consequences.
"Poor countries and their people are most vulnerable to the increased
risks from rising water levels, more frequent and intense extreme
weather events, the spread of infectious diseases including malaria,
intensified water scarcity and failing agricultural crops, and the
extinction of species", said Brian Dawson, a senior climate change
policy advisor with UNDP.
The costs of climate change fall disproportionately on developing
countries, but money to cope with theses challenges is scarce, he
said. "The developing world heavily depends on their ecosystems. If
there is a drought, the developed countries can buy food from
elsewhere. But a lot of people living in the developing world depend
on what the season provides on food," Dawson told IPS.
"They have the least resources to build adaptation measures required.
The developed countries can build storm barriers and strong shelters,
they can have emergency support systems and warning systems. The
developing countries just don't have the resources unless they get it
from someone else; if they don't have services that might help to
protect them, people will die."
The world's coral reefs are a stark example of the impact of climate
change on poor people. Coral reef decline began in 1980 and some 27
percent of reefs worldwide have been degraded by bleaching, while
another 60 percent are deemed highly vulnerable to bleaching, disease
and subsequent overgrowth by micro-algae.
Climate change could lead to the collapse of reefs entirely within
several decades. Just one degree Celsius additional warming of sea
surface temperatures could bleach the entire ring of coral reefs,
according to the study.
This in turn would disrupt the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal
communities relying on the reefs for their income and main source of
protein, undermine the tourism industry, and remove the storm
protection provided by the reefs.
In order to ease the economic impacts of climate change, the study
suggests that the business community should be actively involved,
since the funding provided by donor countries is not sufficient even
to meet the fairly modest Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
The eight MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger;
universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-
thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the
promotion of gender equality; environmental sustainability; reversal
of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and a global
partnership for development between the rich and poor.
"It is vital that the private sector in the developing and
industrialised world also take on this challenge and bring their
considerable expertise and resources to bear on humankind's greatest
killers -- poverty and hunger," says the UNDP's Dawson.
"We need to unleash on these challenges a new kind of 'public-private
partnership' where the mandates and business models of both the
private sector and the public sector -- i.e. the U.N., non-
governmental organisations, civil society and academia -- are
aligned, coordinated and focused." (END)
---------- Forwarded Article and Interview ----------
The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL of MEDICINE
Climate Change and Human Health:
Interview with Dr. Paul Epstein on the effects of climate change on
"It is never pointless to think about alternatives that may at the
moment seem improbable, impossible, or simply fantastic."
-- Václav Havel