28 January 2008

Health nightmare on the way

Climate change will have potentially devastating consequences for human health, outweighing global economic impacts, researchers say.

Climate change will have potentially devastating consequences for human health, outweighing global economic impacts, researchers said, calling for urgent action to protect the world's population.

"While we embark on more rapid reduction of emissions to avert future climate change, we must also manage the now unavoidable health risks from current and pending climate change," said Australian researcher Tony McMichael, who co-authored a study in the British Medical Journal.

"This will have adverse health effects in all populations, particularly in geographically vulnerable and resource-poor regions," he said.

Greater than economic threat
McMichael, from Australia's Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said increased wildfires, droughts, flooding and disease stemming from climate change posed a much more fundamental threat to human well-being than economic impacts.

A 2006 report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said climate change had the potential to shrink the global economy by between 5 and 20 percent, causing a similar impact to the Great Depression.

But McMichael said climate shift would bring changes to the pattern of infectious diseases, the effect of worsening food yields and loss of people's livelihoods. While it was unlikely to spawn entirely new types of diseases, it would impact on the frequency, range and season patterns of many existing disorders, with between 20 and 70 million more people living in malarial regions by 2080, he said.

Poor countries hardest hit
And the impact would be hardest in poor countries, said the researchers, including co-author Sharon Friel from the Australian National University, Tony Nyong from Nigeria's Jos University and Carlos Corvalan of the World Health Organization.

"Infectious diseases cannot be stabilised in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment," McMichael said. "Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury."

McMichael said immediate decision-making was needed to involve health professionals in planning for the impact of climate change.

A wake-up call
Kevin Parton, from Australia's Charles Sturt University, said the report was a wake-up call that the world needed to be doing more to eradicate diseases such as malaria.

"The health risks are massive, and the best way to mitigate them is to minimise the extent of climate change. Global community health is the climate change issue," he said. – (Reuters Health)

Read more:
Enviro health Centre
Global warming fuels disease

January 2008


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