The effects of climate change on our environment have long been felt and thoroughly discussed. Scientists have, with much distress, pointed out the change in migratory patterns of various species, the rapidly melting glaciers and ice caps, the uncontrolled wildfires, and the extreme weather events. However, we often overlook the undeniable effects climate change is having on our global health.
The World Health organisation has reported that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause roughly 250,000 additional deaths per year. But how exactly will climate change be responsible for turning this worrying figure into a reality ? The combination of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone are expected to work together to contribute to a rising death toll. These afflictions, however, have a much greater impact than first thought.
Climate change and nutrition
As research from the World Food Programme shows, from the 1990s onwards, climate shocks have increased by more than 50% in third world countries which are already susceptible to malnutrition and food insecurity. The unpredictable, and often extreme, weather conditions like droughts, heatwaves or floods cause shortages in the availability of food by decreasing and destroying crop yields. The fall in the supply and distribution of food, low incomes and disruption to transport and infrastructure, lead to a spike in the prices of basic household items which many are unable to afford. As a result families are forced to have a poor quality and unvaried diet. This and the amalgamation of water insecurity, which is often further disrupted during natural disasters, alongside disease outbreaks caused by climate change creates the ideal conditions for global nutrition crises.
The spreading of infectious diseases
As medical knowledge has become more advanced, the implementation of sanitation, hygiene and prevention methods has improved, thus aiding in the alleviation of worldwide infectious diseases. However, the spread of covid-19 has proven that threats to global health are still very much thriving.
The global rising of temperatures, as well as more flooding and drought has expanded the areas where diseases like malaria and dengue thrive. Erin Mordecai, a Stanford biologist, has made surprising forecasts on how climate change will alter where mosquitoes are most at ease and how quickly they transmit the disease, carrying its burden across the globe. Even rich, developed countries aren’t expected to be immune. Biting insects, including mosquitos, spread some of the most neglected yet dangerous infectious diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile virus. In the past, economic security and colder temperatures have mostly restricted mosquito-borne diseases from arising in the Northern Hemisphere, but climate change shows signs of changing this.
Climate change and mental health
Whilst most of the scientific research surrounding climate change and health, focuses on physical health, the impacts on mental health are equally as important and need to be advocated more. Historically, very little attention has been given to the significance of mental health, however as times are changing, it’s receiving greater awareness. Developing countries, however, still have progress to make in this area due to many factors including limited access to education and less educational resources. Despite this, developing countries are the ones which face more mental strain to their populations after natural disasters. This is usually due to the lower quality infrastructure and preventative methods to minimise the impacts which often leads to greater devastation, loss of homes, businesses and schools.
The rapid pace with which the sinister effects of climate change are sweeping over the planet should motivate us all to be agents for positive change. Whilst it’s imperative that the biggest contributors to the worsening of climate change (namely industry) act swiftly, it doesn’t mean that we as individuals should not support grassroots organisations in our local communities or take personal measures to help protect the planet.
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