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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 8:14 EDT

WHO Warns of Climate Change’s Health Effects

April 7, 2008

As global temperatures continue to increase, the World Health Organization hopes to focus on the potential consequences a warmer climate poses to human health.

Not only will global warming affect the average air and sea temperature, it also magnifies the risk of disease and hunger in poor underdeveloped countries, according to WHO.

In addition to the observed changes in the Earth’s anatomy, climate-sensitive impacts on human health are occurring today. “They are attacking the pillars of public health. And they are providing a glimpse of the challenges public health will have to confront on a large scale,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

“The core concern is succinctly stated: climate change endangers human health,” said Dr Chan. “The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events — more storms, floods, droughts and heat waves — will be abrupt and acutely felt. Both trends can affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease.”

Areas in Asia already exhibit signs of global warming’s influence on the population. The most visible red flag is seen in the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that have begun to multiply at faster rates due to abbreviated breeding cycles over the past 30 years.

Some of the disease-carrying mosquitoes have been attracted to areas like South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea in search of cooler climates.

Malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and floods account for an estimated 150,000 deaths annually, with Asia accounting for more than half, said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi.

“Without urgent action through changes in human lifestyle, the effects of this phenomenon on the global climate system could be abrupt or even irreversible, sparing no country and causing more frequent and more intense heat waves, rain storms, tropical cyclones and surges in sea level,” said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi.

WHO has dubbed April 7 as World Health Day. Its goal for 2008 is to focus on their theme “protecting health from climate change” in order to highlight the need for adjustments to battle negative health effects caused by climate change.

In order to address climate change’s negative health effects, WHO is initiating research on the most effective measures to protect health from climate change, particularly for vulnerable populations such as women and children in developing countries.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its consequences will not be evenly distributed,” said Dr Chan. “In short, climate change can affect problems that are already huge, largely concentrated in the developing world, and difficult to control.”

Image Caption: Global warming’s influence can already be seen on populations in Asia. The most visible red flag is seen in the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that have begun to multiply at faster rates due to abbreviated breeding cycles over the past 30 years.

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