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Monday, January 24, 2011

deteriorating human health linked to climate change

The impact of climate change on human health has not been discussed in many of the climate change conferences around the world. Today, we clearly see the effects of climate change on human health and the need to address it.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in cases of dengue in the South-East Asia region. Bhutan started reporting dengue at higher altitude since 2004. The dengue mosquitoes previously found at an elevation of 500 meters above sea level have now been sighted at altitudes of 2,200 meters in Darjeeling, India and 4,000 meters in Nepal.
Climate change will have mixed effects on malaria incidences. It is likely to decrease in plains having high ambient temperatures throughout the year. However, with an increase in temperature, new windows for malaria will open in cooler regions, such as mountains presently free from malaria, and the season of malaria transmission will also expand.
While Bhutan has attended a number of environment and climate change conferences, for the first time the country hosted a regional conference of parliamentarians on protecting human health from climate change. It was organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Thimphu this week.
“Despite the obvious link between climate change and health, this is a subject that has until now been hardly discussed in the various climate change forum at the national, regional and international levels,” the Prime Minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley said.
Lyonchen added that while no nation will be spared from the adverse impact of climate change, it will be felt disproportionately by the poor and the geographically vulnerable populations of small island countries, mountainous regions and the coastal areas.
This regional conference focused on parliamentarians because the conference is expected to create awareness among politicians and garner their support in transferring the resolution from paper to actions across countries.
The conference will also contribute meaningfully to enhancing their understanding of the diversity and natures of risks posed by climate change and thereby facilitate the adoption of appropriate mitigation and adaption policies and measures by respective governments.
The World Health Report 2002 estimated that about 82,000 persons died due to climate change in South-East Asia in 2000, and among WHO regions, South-East Asia had the highest estimated deaths.
“We must focus on building public health systems that go beyond merely reacting to climate change to systems that will ensure the development and maintenance of healthy environments. We must strengthen our efforts to integrate climate change policies and actions plans in the key sectors to improve public health and happiness,” said Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley.
Bhutan has been taking measures to protect human health from climate change and is now initiating a new project with the support of WHO, UNDP, and the Global Environment Facility. The project will consolidate several programs such as vector borne disease program, rural water supply and sanitation, nutrition program, control of diarrheal disease program to address health impacts with a holistic approach.
“The project will help us to develop early warning systems, strengthen health system capacity, and implement community level interventions, to protect populations from threats such as floods, and outbreaks of infectious diseases,” said the health minister, Lyonpo Zangley Dukpa.
Bhutan’s water resources are also depleting which has serious consequences for the health and hygiene of its people.
Diarrhea is one of the most common causes of death among children under five years in South-East Asia. Climate change increases the incidence of diarrhea diseases.
Heavy rains and floods contaminated drinking water sources with human excrete by flooding septic tanks and sewerage system. Scarcity of water caused by drought, decreased glacial melt water, increased salinity of coastal areas due to rising sea levels and storms compromise the quality of drinking water and sanitation. There are reports from the region of increased incidences of cholera and rota virus diarrhea associated with higher sea surface temperature and atmospheric temperature, respectively.
The climate change now threatens with not only health challenges but with the question of human survival on this planet.

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