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Climate change is also a serious public health emergency
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Climate change is also a serious public health emergency

A person poses for a photo next to a thermometer in Death Valley, California, on July 11. | REUTERS


Numerous U.N. reports have warned of the dire consequences of climate change that could affect the environment, planet and human survival if global warming continues. As stated in an editorial in the medical journal The Lancet, “Acting on the climate crisis is a clear, yet still neglected, priority for public health.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2020 was Earth’s second hottest for the past 140 years. Since 2000, 19 of the hottest years on record have been since then. These rising global warming trends have had a significant impact on all ages, especially those who are most vulnerable or have underlying health conditions.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 150,000 deaths each year due to climate change. This number could rise as high as 250,000 deaths between 2030 and 2050. Most of these deaths will be due to heat stress, malnutrition and intestinal and respiratory infections. This is especially true for children from developing nations.

Climate change negatively impacts social and environmental health determinants such as clean air and safe drinking water. The WHO estimates that the direct costs of health problems caused by climate change will range from $2 billion to $4 billion by 2030.

Climate change may have some benefits. For example, there may be fewer deaths in winter in certain climates and increased food production in areas that are not subject to the harsh effects of cold weather. Some studies of the impacts of global warming have shown that most of them are negative.

The WHO reports that the number of weather-related natural catastrophes has more than tripled globally since the 1960s. People are forced to move by natural disasters, which can lead to negative health effects such as mental disorders, communicable diseases, and other ailments.

The likelihood of hospitalizations and illnesses increases with the increasing frequency of heat waves. In July, temperatures in California’s Death Valley hit above 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit), nearly beating the 56.6 record set in 1913. The American Association of Retired Persons commissioned a study that found that heat waves cause an increase in hospitalizations and emergency-room visits for renal failure, urinary tract infections, and other medical problems.

Extremely high temperatures can cause serious respiratory diseases like asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive and persistent pulmonary disease (COPD) by increasing ground-level ozone concentrations. Global warming also increases the incidence of tick-borne diseases, such as malaria, that are transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects.

Floods and rising sea levels can not only cause damage to homes but also affect medical facilities, as well as other social and health services. Flooding can lead to contamination of freshwater supplies, increasing the risk for water-borne diseases.

Climate change is a huge challenge that requires government policies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The policies that need to be implemented are well-known. What is needed is the political will to put them in action. While most world leaders might recognize climate threats to people’s health, their current actions are deeply insufficient, states The Lancet medical journal.

It is essential to increase individual resilience, be ready to face adverse situations, by strengthening personal preparedness, social and family connections, creating supportive mental health environments, and strengthening them. We have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that global threats can only be solved by working together. Climate change is not only going to affect our quality of living, but also our survival.

Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and the author of “Environmental Impact on Child Health,” a publication of the Pan American Health Organization.

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