Bad for development: the health impacts of climate change

25th September 2014

Following on from the recent World Health Organization conference on health and climate in Geneva, two blog posts on the complexities of development in the Indian Sundarbans and the fight against Ebola in Africa highlight the links between the two sectors.

As the effects of climate change are increasingly experienced around the world, the impacts of on health become clearer and deeper. In 2009, The Lancet stated climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Both physical and mental health, as well as health systems, are affected, including from extreme weather events such as flooding, weakened infrastructure, depleted agricultural production, pollution, forced migration and destroyed livelihoods.

At the 2013 UNFCCC Warsaw Conference on climate change, there were potentially hopeful signs that the links between climate change and health are being taken more seriously. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum from the World Health Organisation outlined these as:

  • The public identifies with the correlation between health and climate change.
  • The World Health Assembly has a resolution to act on climate change.
  • There are expanding programmes on health adaptation although there is now a need to try institutionalise programmes.
  • There are new initiatives supporting climate change mitigation. This includes decreasing air pollution and its effects.

The direct financial costs to health from climate change are estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion per year by 2030. In South Asia alone, the cost of climate change means that the region could lose a shocking equivalent of 8.8% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100. This could have a devastating effect on poverty levels, health and development progress. The question arises: how do we make sure that money is being funnelled into the right programmes?

‘Strengthening health system resilience to climate risks’ and ‘promoting health while mitigating climate change’ are the two main topics to be discussed at the World Health Organization (WHO) conference, taking place from 27 to 29 August. Health system resilience, climate-sensitive diseases (including malaria and diarrhoeal diseases), food and water security, and the environmental impact of the health sector itself are among the topics on the agenda. This global event brings together experts, technical specialists, advisors and policy makers to continue the much needed cross-sectoral dialogue, learning and sharing.

To mark the WHO conference, our colleagues in the Indian Sundarbans and South Africa have shared the real challenges on the ground and opportunities ahead in two blog posts:

Upasona Ghosh, Senior Research Officer at the Institute of Health Management Research works to explore and understand the uncertainties faced by the people of the Sundarbans region, due to climatic events, not only in direct relation to community health, but also to the other social determinants, such as livelihood and food security.

Mao Amis, Executive Director of African Centre for a Green Economy, explores the lessons that we can learn from the current Ebola outbreak when it comes to managing other diseases in the face of climate change.

Find out more about the conference and watch the live stream at the WHO website.