UN agencies target climate health impacts as extreme weather events triple in 50 years

By RTCC Staff

A new atlas has been published to help reduce the impact of extreme weather events and climatic variability on human health.

The atlas, compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), tracks shifting patterns of disease and identifies regions that could become more prone to outbreaks associated with extreme weather events.

Major flooding events have more than doubled since 1970 and extreme weather events have tripled since 1960.

Haiti has suffered at the hands of several tropical storms and an earthquake in recent years, with outbreaks of cholera and the H1N1 virus developing in the aftermath.

The atlas, launched at the World Meteorological Congress in Geneva, shows how improved climate data can improve early warning systems to reduce the impact of climate variability on health.

In the aftermath of a major earthquake and several severe tropical storms Haiti has also experienced outbreaks of cholera and H1N1. (Source: UN Photo/UNICEF/Marco Dormino)

“Stronger cooperation between the meteorological and health communities is essential to ensure that up-to-date, accurate and relevant information on weather and climate is integrated into public health management at international, national and local levels,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General, WMO.

The spread of some infectious diseases including cholera, malaria and dengue can vary by a factor of 100 depending on climatic conditions.

Adding these variables to existing health risk assessments can improve the identification of potential hotspots increasing the lead time for a public health response.

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Increased cooperation can also help responses to impending periods of extreme heat. With continued urbanisation and an increase in the frequency of these events, extreme heat is a growing concern, but one that can be mitigated for.

The success of early warning systems for natural disasters such as cyclones has already been proved as an effective measure to reduce deaths.

Comparable cyclones in Bangladesh in 1970 and 2007 killed 500,000 and 3,000 respectively.

In the case of meningitis, spread of the virus is facilitated by dry and dusty conditions. By pre-empting where and when these will occur, allows targeted vaccination programmes to limit the disease’s impact.


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