Realities of climate change and human health

Flooding in Lagos

Climate change has a direct effect on social and environmental determinants of health, says Amusa Temitope Victor, an environmentalist. He argued that local efforts with global perspectives must be encouraged; communities must stare down on pollution and other human activities capable of contributing to global warming.

Some say it is a hoax, others argue it isn’t; some simply say natural disasters have no explanation as they are simply beyond human comprehension.

But climate change has remained on the lips of the world and quite a lot of residents ask of what impact has it other than nature destroying itself and resultantly distorting human activities. Some people still feel there is no way the graph of global warming can be extrapolated to the health and well-being of residents of the earth and therefore find it difficult to see the sincere concern of world leaders across the globe holding conferences and summits just to discuss climate change.

The cleanliness of the air we breathe in, the safety of the water we drink, the sufficiency of our food and the security of our shelters are all core factors in the measure of our healthiness as residents of the earth, they form the bedrock of the social and environmental influencers and are largely affected by Climate Change.

There seem to be a dooms day projection ahead, according to the World Health Organization report based on available records and measured recent occurrences, between 2030 and 2050 about 250,000 additional deaths per annum is expected from heat waves, water borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea, and effects of shortfall in food production-malnutrition, all these premises on climate change and its threat, these figures are dreadful and we can’t just continue to be docile, the time to take climate action is now.

Talking finances and costs as well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its policy makers report of the year 2014 further estimated about US$ 2-4 billion/annum by 2030 as the projected cost of damage to health, this is excluding other influencers like sanitation, agriculture, and water.

It is, therefore, no doubt what huge challenge developing nations are poised to face as there are either non-existing or poor infrastructures in their health sector, if left alone the chances that these nations will be able to cope without support is slim, hence the need to adequately brace up and engage in very decisive mitigating efforts.

With a cleaner air as a result of conscious efforts aimed at reduction of pollution especially of the air, through climate actions like reduction in fossil fuel burning for transport, to cut in carbon foot-print from agricultural activities and improved green energy like solar and wind sources, we as residents of the earth will in so great dimension cut down greenhouse gases emissions and will directly improve healthy living.

In the last six decades there has been a huge increase in release of carbon emissions, especially as a result of the burning of fossil fuels due to human activities causing extensive global warming wherein atmospheric balance of the earth is disrupted, it seems the earth is burning from inside out as the gases which ordinarily should have kept the earth warm have formed a thick cloud of membrane around it preventing adequate heat from leaving the earth, this in return resulted in climate change.

Studies revealed that in the last thirteen decades, the earth has increasingly warmed by about 0.85oC, furthermore the last thirty years has been increasingly warmer than previous times since the last part of the eighteenth century.

From desertification to drought, famine to malnutrition, rising sea levels to lethal flooding, heat waves to wild fires, changing patterns of precipitation to general disruption in eco balance, climate change is not a hoax, the effects and damning threats are out there for all to see.

Climate Change affects health and well-being in no little ways; It is worth acknowledging though that as a popular saying has it that, there are blessings in curses; climate change in areas of extreme climate conditions like temperate regions might bring about lesser freezing deaths and likewise boost production of food in some regions, but the resulting threats on a global scale are expansively disastrous.

Extreme temperatures contribute largely to mortality from heart and lungs related diseases mostly in pediatrics and geriatrics, pollutants in the atmosphere are dispersed more in extremely high temperatures and can trigger respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma which affects over 400 million people across the globe and have resulted in a lot of deaths, the spike in warmth level as a result of global warming owing to climate change is expected to increase these concerns.

Hurricanes and fatal flash floods are on the rise, it is no news how natural disasters have ravaged nations across the globe in recent times, from developed to developing and even third world nations, that is under developed nations as they are fondly called. From Hurricane Harvey at the gulf coast of the United States to Hurricane Irma close to the Caribbean island, the Lagos and Suleja -Nigeria flood disaster in early July 2017 and in recent times the Makurdi Washout and submersion, no part of the globe is exempted from the damaging effects of climate change.

Across the globe, the amount of climate-related natural disasters reported daily, monthly or even quarterly have grown in geometric proportions since the second half of the 19th century. This has resulted in a lot of deaths especially in developing nations and underdeveloped nations where there are no viable and responsive health infrastructures capable of containing the damaging effects of the disasters.

The sad news is that melting glaciers keep increasing the sea levels and more homes and human settlements will yet more be destroyed by the growing occasions of extreme weather; the inadequate health infrastructures are not left out of the facilities at risk of submersion and fatal flood. More people will be internally displaced and will need to live in camps where sanitation crisis is likely to over run them as a result of flooding and other natural disasters, this is expected to increase an array of health-related conditions from epidemics to depression amidst others.

The increase in unpredictable patterns of rainfall are undoubtedly affecting water supply, inadequate or outright lack of safe drinking water exposes residents to an increased risk of sanitation crisis and water-borne diseases example of which is cholera which is responsible for infant mortality of about 700,000 cases annually in children under the age of 5 years as reported by the United Nations. Also in very extreme situations drought and famine are inevitable. It is no speculation however that there is going to be an alarming drought and famine across developing nations especially in the continent of Africa if active steps are not taken to mitigate the effects of climate change now.

Another very disturbing reality is the tendencies of floods to contaminate drinking water sources through washing sewage into water sources, hence increases the risks of resident exposure to water bone diseases and likewise become areas for mosquitoes to flourish.

In developing nations, especially in Africa extreme temperatures directly reduce agricultural yields especially the production of food crops, this way there is the disturbing spread of malnutrition a major factor responsible for over three million deaths annually according to the World Health Organization.

It is imperative therefore to note that climate change has a direct effect on social and environmental determinants of health, therefore very serious measures must be taken to mitigate climate change at all levels. Local efforts with global perspectives must be encouraged, every community must rise to the call to stare down on pollution and other human activities capable of contributing to global warming.

We cannot continue to live in self-denial, Climate Change is real. The time to domesticate climate action campaigns is now, even as we take more proactive steps towards climate adaptation and sustainability, after all, no one is immune to the grievous consequences and threats of climate change, all hands, therefore, must be on deck as a threat to our health is a threat to our very existence.

• Amusa is also the Chief Executive Officer, Vicfold Recyclers- a recycling firm based in Ilorin Kwara State.

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