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WHO urges action on health effects of climate change

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Image credit: Frank Schwichtenberg [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on world leaders to take action on the health effects of climate change, calling it “one of the world’s most urgent health threats.”

In a statement, Tedros said “only when countries can provide health services to all, including those in greatest jeopardy from climate change, will we achieve our goals of promoting health, keeping the world safe, and protecting the vulnerable.” He exhorted governments to commit to improve air quality standards to levels deemed safe by the WHO by 2030 and to make financial commitments to address the health effects of climate change in advance of the Climate Action Summit, which will be held at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 23rd. 

“Today, less than 0.5 percent of international finance for climate change is allocated to health, and the most vulnerable countries, particularly small island developing states, receive only a fraction of that,” Tedros said. “Countries are being asked to allocate more to protect people against the ravages of the climate crisis.” 

Copyright: ajijchan / 123RF Stock Photo
Floodwaters in the Kuttanad region of Kerala. Disasters such as flooding are likely to increase unless India steps up in the fight against climate change.

The WHO claims that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for 250,000 additional deaths from a range of conditions, including acute diarrhoeal disease (ADD), malnutrition, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, water-borne diseases, and stress. “Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter,” the WHO notes. Changes in temperature can affect mosquito breeding patterns, influencing a surge in vector-borne diseases – particularly malaria. Higher temperatures can exacerbate health issues such as heart disease and lead to health problems and mortality due to heat stress. 

This is to say nothing of the increasingly inclement weather patterns associated with climate change, manifest in natural disasters of the kind witnessed throughout India in recent years. Extreme heatwaves have killed more than 22,000 people since 1992 while flooding has occurred across multiple states this year, causing mass displacement and killing more than 270 people as of mid-August. In Kerala alone, more than 100 deaths were reported. This came a year after the state experienced its worst flooding in almost a century, killing more than 480 people. The risk to health from flooding is not isolated to the immediate danger: flooding can lead to the spread of infectious diseases, as was seen in Kerala when cases of ADD, dengue fever and leptospirosis – among others – spiked. 

Tedros’s call to action is one countries should be cognisant of, including India. The country loses more than a million lives every year due to the effects of poor air quality while the health effects of climate change are being witnessed every day, from those in disaster-ravaged areas to those grappling with water scarcity and food shortages to those living under immense heat. Climate change poses an existential threat to the planet at large – and all nations, including India, have a role to play in combating it. 

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