Climate Change and Health

New Atlas of Health and Climate shows climate-sensitive diseases can be forecast


As the world’s climate continues to change hazards to human health are increasing.
A new report published jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), illustrates how it could be possible to forewarn countries about climate-sensitive infectious disease outbreaks months in advance.

The Atlas of Health and Climate maps the links between climate and diseases like cholera, malaria, dengue fever, meningitis and diarrhoea, according to a review of the report by IRIN.

Droughts, floods and cyclones affect the health of millions of people each year. Climate variability and extreme conditions such as floods can also trigger epidemics of diseases which cause death and suffering for many millions more. The Atlas gives practical examples of how the use of weather and climate information can protect public health.

These diseases take the heaviest toll, according to the Atlas, a collaborative effort between the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and real-time maps showing possible spread could help prevention and treatment efforts. Diarrhoea kills over two million people every year, for example, and malaria kills nearly a million; both are influenced by climate variability.

“Prevention and preparedness are the heart of public health. Risk management is our daily bread and butter. Information on climate variability and climate change is a powerful scientific tool that assists us in these tasks,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO . “Climate has a profound impact on the lives, and survival, of people. Climate services can have a profound impact on improving these lives, also through better health outcomes.”

Around the world climate services have been generally been an underutilized resource for public health.

“Stronger cooperation between the meteorological and health communities is essential to ensure that up-to-date, accurate and relevant information on weather and climate is integrated into public health management at international, national and local levels. This Atlas is an innovative and practical example of how we can work together to serve society,” said WMO Secretary- General Mr Michel Jarraud.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international scientific body, noted that rising temperatures and the increasing frequency of extreme events could exacerbate malaria, cholera, Rift Valley fever and dengue fever in developing countries.

Speaking to IRIN, Diarmid Campbell- Lendrum, who leads the climate change and health team at WHO and is an author of the Atlas said: “One of the functions that we illustrate through the Atlas is that we can correlate climate and health information in places where we have both, and use the climate data to make health predictions, either for places where we have climate but not health information, or for the future.”

Much of the information in the Atlas is not new, says Campbell-Lendrum, but “what we are doing is to connect it together, and make it as accessible and clear as possible to decision-makers, from heads of health and meteorological agencies to field staff in disease-control programmes.

“This also includes the general public, who we hope will become increasingly ‘climate-aware’ in regards to their health. This is going to become more important as issues such as heat waves become more frequent through climate change, and vulnerability to health impacts increases through ageing, chronic disease, etc.”

- Atlas of Health and Climate

- Climo – Climate and Mortality (PDF 3MB) gha/article/view/20152/pdf

Atlas of Health and Climate – key messages

The Atlas conveys three key messages. First, climate affects the geographical and temporal distribution of large burdens of disease and poses important threats to health security, on time scales from hours to centuries. Second, the relationship between health and climate is influenced by many other types of vulnerability, including the physiology and behaviour of individuals, the environmental and socio-economic conditions of populations, and the coverage and effectiveness of health programmes. Third, climate information is now being used to protect health through risk reduction, preparedness and response over various spatial and temporal scales and in both affluent and developing countries.

Numerous maps, tables and graphs assembled in the Atlas make the links between health and climate more explicit:

- In some locations the incidence of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, meningitis and cholera can vary by factors of more than 100 between seasons, and significantly between years, depending on weather and climate conditions. Stronger climate services in endemic countries can help predict the onset, intensity and duration of epidemics.

- Case studies illustrate how collaboration between meteorological, emergency and health services is already saving lives. For example, the death toll from cyclones of similar intensity in Bangladesh reduced from around 500,000 in 1970, to 140,000 in 1991, to 3,000 in 2007 – largely thanks to improved early warning systems and preparedness.

- Heat extremes that would currently be expected to occur only once in 20 years, may occur on average every 2-5 years by the middle of this century. At the same time, the number of older people living in cities (one of the most vulnerable groups to heat stress), will almost quadruple globally, from 380 million in 2010, to 1.4 billion in 2050. Cooperation between health and climate services can trigger measures to better protect people during periods of extreme weather.

- Shifting to clean household energy sources would both reduce climate change, and save the lives of approximately 680 000 children a year from reduced air pollution. The Atlas also shows how meteorological and health services can collaborate to monitor air pollution and its health impacts.

- In addition, the unique tool shows how the relationship between health and climate is shaped by other vulnerabilities, such as those created by poverty, environmental degradation, and poor infrastructure, especially for water and sanitation.

 Date of upload: 22nd Jan 2013


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