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
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
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
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
“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)
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..
of upload: 22nd Jan 2013