Over 90pc Disasters In Pakistan During Last 40 Years Due To Changes In Climate, Indicates WHO Data

Over 90pc Disasters In Pakistan During Last 40 Years Due To Changes In Climate, Indicates WHO Data
Over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate. According to World Health Organization, in the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC.

It's the first time that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.

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Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70,000 excess deaths were recorded. High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people. Ongoing temperature increases are expected to increase this burden.

Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries. Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weathers will destroy homes, medical facilities, and other essential services.

More than half of the world's population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases. Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrheal disease, which kills over 500,000 children aged under 5 years, every year. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine. By the late 21st century, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought at regional and global scale.

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WHO data indicates that in the last 40 years more than 90% of the disasters that have taken place in Pakistan have been triggered by changes in the climate. It is predicted that there will be an increase in the frequency and severity of climate-related events, such as floods, droughts, cyclones, heat, and cold waves, in the coming years.

Climatic changes could also affect human health, (e.g. increasing the number of cases of avian influenza, malaria, cholera, dengue fever) animals and have an impact eco-system. Weather and climate effects are key determinants of health. They also influence the transmission of infectious diseases.

Climate change has deleterious impacts on sustainable development and economic growth. In addition, policies to mitigate climate change (e.g. in energy, transport, urban planning sector) have a direct and important influence on health, e.g. through effects on local air pollution. There is a need to focus on generating evidence on health and climate change, develop evidence-based policies to reduce emissions, slow down global warming, and increase the resilience of health systems in order to minimize the impact on health as a result of climate change.

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It is critical to build the institutional capacity of the health sector (at provincial, district and local levels) in relation to extreme weather events to reinforce surveillance, early detection, and response in the areas of infectious diseases, nutrition, respiratory diseases, water, and food safety.

It is equally important that the provincial authorities are capable of generating and/or gathering intelligence and establishing early warning systems for climate-sensitive diseases, and integrating such intelligence into existing health information management systems.

Improving evidence-based policies will lead to greater protection for health from climate change and raise the awareness of the public about adaptation to climate change and adopt appropriate mitigation measures. Close coordination and cooperation between the Ministries of Health, Environment and Education and the Pakistan Department of Meteorology in issuing advisories and to handle the issue in a comprehensive way is essential.

The author is a freelance writer and associated with the development sector. He can be reached at mqesar@gmail.com. He tweets @MansorQaisar