Climate change is a global phenomenon that has various impacts including warming temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increase in the frequency or intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. Climate change is said to be the single biggest health threat facing humanity. Due to the impact of climate change some health threat will intensify and new threats will emerge.
Climate change affects all citizens of the world but the most susceptible are those who are least able to protect themselves against it –low income individuals and people who reside in disadvantaged countries and communities.
The intensity of these health risks will depend on the ability of public health and safety systems to address or prepare for these changing threats, as well as factors such as an individual’s behavior, age, gender, and economic status. Extremes in weather and temperature, increased pollution and environmental toxins, and changes in food security can all cause physical and mental health problems.
Climate change is affecting some of the essential factors that influence human health, including:
- safety of shelter
- air quality
- quality, safety, and supply of drinking water
- food availability
- nutrition levels in food
Some of the impacts of climate change on health include:
- Heat and weather related conditions: rising temperatures can cause or exacerbate severe health problems. Exposure to extreme heat can cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion, muscle cramps amongst others.
- Air pollution: An increase in air pollution can pose a high risk to health. High levels of dust, fine particles in the air can cause or aggravate a number or health issues, including: asthma, lung inflammation, chest pain, heart attacks, and risk of lung cancer among other conditions.
- Allergen: warmer temperatures and increase in carbon monoxide production can lead to higher pollen production and higher levels of allergen from plant. Also, a combination of warmer weather and more rainfall can lead to increased dampness and fungi, including mold, indoors. These conditions can also cause breathing problems, greater sensitivity to allergens, asthma, including longer or more frequent bouts of acute asthma, worsening of other respiratory conditions
- Flooding and drought causing displacement of people, low agricultural yield, affects availability of clean water and the aquatic population.
- Food security: Weather changes affect crops and food production. Food prices may rise, which may cause people to adopt less healthful diets. Poor diets can lead to hunger, malnutrition, or obesity. According to the CDCTrusted Source, the nutritional value of certain foods may decrease due to climate change.
- Mental health issues: changes in a person’s physical health or surrounding environment can also have serious impacts on their mental health. Extreme weather and natural disasters can be traumatic and stressful for the people whom they affect. People may undergo displacement, injury, the loss of their home and possessions, or the loss of loved ones.
- Increase in infectious diseases: According to the WHOTrusted Source, climate change is likely to cause an increase in insect-transmitted infections and waterborne diseases. The reason for this is that changes in climate could increase the length of the seasons during which insects transmit infections.
- Populations of concern:
- children, particularly those living in developing countries
- older adults
- people with certain preexisting health conditions
- people who are economically disadvantaged
- people who are socially isolated
These population are increasingly being exposed to climate change and the scale of justice continues to be skewed to their disadvantage. However, the African Activist for Climate Justice project seeks to ensure that this scale of justice is balance or skewed upwards as soon as possible.
Climate change poses significant risks to human health in many ways; it has the potential to affect human health around the world. Natural disasters and extreme weather events can cause injury, mental health issues, increased risk of infection, and death. Damage to infrastructure can also cause long-term setbacks to health and well-being.
There is a lot that can be done to prepare and adapt the climate changes. Understanding the threats posed by climate change on human health is an important step to lowering the risk and preparing for the future. Other steps include: establishing early warning signals, reducing vulnerabilities among susceptible population, raising awareness among citizens and health professionals, and providing infrastructure to accommodate anticipated climate changes.