Climate change has been referred to as the greatest public health threat of the twenty-first century. Globally, climate change, which is largely driven by the massive volume of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, is having catastrophic implications on air and ocean temperatures, precipitation patterns, shrinking glaciers, loss of habitat and dangerously high sea levels. The World Health Organization reports that these changes have severe impacts on the social and environmental determinants of health.
These changes will increasingly affect clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. In fact, climate change will contribute in a variety of ways and cause a multitude of health outcomes. Between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause approximately 250, 000 excess deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, heat stress and cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
Vector-borne infections are affected by temperature, precipitation, humidity, surface water and wind and studies have shown that an increase in temperature would cause worldwide increases in distribution of certain vector organisms including mosquitos which carry malaria and dengue fever. Additionally, studies show that hot weather will amplify the production of smog in urban areas and that warmer summers will increase the incidence of food poisoning.
Climate change also increases the risk of water-borne diseases, causes drownings, and physical injuries and disrupts the supply of medical and health services. Vulnerability to these conditions and to climate change overall varies regarding health outcomes. Vulnerability depends on how dependant a health outcome is to climate change but is also based on population density, level of economic development, food availability, income level, environmental conditions, pre-existing health status and the quality and availability of public health care.
Municipalities around the world are becoming increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events as evidenced by several events reported in 2014 including the lake-effect and excess snowfall in New York, flash floods in France, hurricane Iselle in Hawaii, drought in Brazil, heat waves in India, and wildfires in Saskatchewan for example. In response, cities are beginning to approach climate change with adaptation strategies including developing early warning systems for weather events such as floods and monitoring other conditions such as air quality and water quality. Stay tuned and check out one of our upcoming blogs on climate change adaptation!