Special Correspondent

Elderly and the young will be the most affected

Air and water quality will suffer

Malnutrition cases will increase

NEW DELHI: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is placing health at the centre of global dialogue by making it the theme of the World Health Day, April 7.

This follows an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is human induced, making it one of the most critical challenges of our time.

If the increase in greenhouse emissions continues at the current pace, air quality will suffer greatly and respiratory illnesses will worsen. Lack of safe water will most probably trigger outbreaks of diarrhoea and other food and water-borne diseases.

Projecting the risks associated with climate change in 2030, the WHO estimates that the number of malnutrition cases will increase by more than 10 per cent.

Climate-sensitive diseases such as dengue and malaria are estimated to increase in terms of geographical distribution and incidence. Higher minimum temperatures will allow many disease vectors to thrive, leading to new risks in regions where they were previously less significant.

The people in the greatest danger include the very young, the elderly and the medically frail. Low-income countries and areas where malnutrition is widespread, education is poor and infrastructure weak will have the most difficulty adapting to climate change and related health hazards. The WHO estimates that warming and precipitation trends due to anthropogenic climate change currently claims over 1,60,000 lives a year.

Enhancing awareness

The WHO and its partners in countries will enhance public education and awareness of the linkages between climate change and human health. Early alert systems for heat waves, other impending weather extremes and outbreaks of infectious diseases will be strengthened. Robuster disaster preparedness, enhanced infectious disease control programmes and improved surveillance will be part of the health sector’s response.