One of the most direct pathways by which the impact of climate change on public health will be felt is the increased incidences of adverse environmental conditions and disasters. As occurrences of global heat waves have increased, heatstroke and dehydration are expected to become more prevalent. This will also lead to, according to Patz, “extremes of the water cycle — more flooding and more drought.”
“If you have the other extreme of the water cycles, which is flooding, lots of [exposure] to contaminated water,” Patz said. “[T]here’s been studies out of the world health organization showing that at least a quarter of million people are being affected by current climate change and that’s a low estimate because that’s just looking at a couple of diseases — malaria, malnutrition and diarrheal disease.”
Equally as costly – both in terms of the impact on human life and in terms of amount spent to combat the public health response – is the increased incidences of natural disasters spurred by climate change. GlobalChange, a U.S. government research program, estimates that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters in years to come, putting a strain on existing public health programs. Indeed, we’ve already seen supposedly “once-in-every-500-years events” like the devastating floods in Louisiana happening with shocking frequency.
“We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere,” Dr. Kenneth Kunkel, of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, told the Guardian. “There’s a very tight loop – as surface temperatures of the oceans warm up, the immediate response is more water vapor in the atmosphere. We’re in a system inherently capable of producing more floods.”
Public health officials have long played an active role in preparing for and helping in the aftermath of natural disasters. Entering a world where these climate change-driven disasters may be more common, public health experts may be in the strongest position to urge for federal funds to be earmarked for disaster relief.
“While it is intuitive that extremes can have health impacts such as death or injury during an event (for example, drowning during floods), health impacts can also occur before or after an extreme event, as individuals may be involved in activities that put their health at risk, such as disaster preparation and post-event cleanup,” GlobalChange summarized. “Health risks may also arise long after the event, or in places outside the area where the event took place, as a result of damage to property, destruction of assets, loss of infrastructure and public services, social and economic impacts, environmental degradation, and other factors.”
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By MOHD SADAQ
Student of Bachelor of Science at Government Degree Postgraduate College BHADERWAH.