Spain: Responding to Climate Change
May 14 2013
A guest post by Sven Kallen, Project Leader of LIFE+ The Green Deserts, on climate action and reforestation in Spain.
On linking climate change to global health
November 11 2011
Photo credit: "Last Supper" in Harare, Zimbabwe, by Willie Chinyamurindi for the Health category of the Connect4Climate photo/video competition.
On today’s topic of how climate change affects health, let’s start where we left off yesterday, with the role of women in rural communities. How climate change impacts health varies by landscape, location, and how the environment is used or misused by the people in that particular community. I wanted to reference the role of women in rural communities because of how they use the environment to provide for their families.
As discussed yesterday, women on the continent play a central role in domestic activities in the home, which include cooking and taking care of children. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that acute respiratory failure from breathing indoor cooking smoke from charcoal and firewood is the number one killer of children under the age of 5, as referenced in the above video from Amy Smith. In adults, respiratory problems can manifest themselves as lung disease or bronchial asthma.
The linkages between the various categories become clearer and clearer. In this instance, there is a direct correlation between degradation of forests for energy, and the impact on respiratory health. The World Health Organization recently put a number to the premature deaths related to cooking fires causing compromised respiratory systems:
Although the danger has received scant public attention, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than two million premature deaths annually are caused by exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires, with women and children the most afflicted. That makes it one of the top five overall health risks in poor, developing countries, and the cause of twice as many deaths as malaria.
The toxic emissions are blamed for low birth weights, pneumonia in young children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, cataracts and other health problems in adults. Half of all deaths among children under age five from acute lower respiratory infections are due to indoor air pollution from household solid fuels, according to WHO.
Another phenomenon of climate change impacting health is the prevalence of mosquitoes in areas where they didn’t usually survive. As average global temperatures rise, mosquitoes are able to survive at altitudes where they previously didn’t have a presence.
Nina Chestney wrote recently for Reuters, “As mosquito species spread due to climate change, the transmission rate of diseases like malaria will increase, engulfing countries like Zimbabwe from 2025 to 2050.”
Malaria is the most prevalent vector born disease that currently doesn’t have an effective vaccine and is single-handedly responsible for reducing Africa’s populations by 1 million each year. Malaria statistics from our partner organization, UNICEF paints a pretty grim future if solutions to mitigate climate change’s threat to global health:
Malaria kills a child somewhere in the world every 30 seconds. It infects 350-500 million people each year, killing 1 million, mostly children in Africa. Ninety per cent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, where malaria accounts for about one in five of all childhood deaths. The disease also contributes greatly to anaemia among children — a major cause of poor growth and development.
While rainy season signals an increase in malaria infections, flooding from too much rain is also another threat to global health. Unpredictable flash floods serve as a vector for spreading waterborne diseases.
The Natural Resources Defense Council lists some of the waterborne ailments flood-stricken communities have to contend with:
Exposure to pathogens from sewage and unclean water can sicken vulnerable communities with illnesses like cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, and norovirus (which cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, and fever).
Human activities, like hillside deforestation, compound the effects of floods. This once again points a finger at human activity as one of the main factors worsening disasters related to climate change. Perhaps we need to consider that if we are the architects of our own demise, it is because we are not making the linkages between our actions and the natural disasters that befall us.
What do you think? What needs to be done in order for us, stewards of the environment, to actively work towards mitigating climate change? If climate change affects all of us through a fabric of human connectivity, how can we build stronger, smarter threads that form a better picture for our global health?