Climate change, environmental health risks becoming greater causes of death
Rawalpindi: Climate change and environmental health risks associated with it are becoming greater causes of deaths around the globe claiming millions of lives every year for the last few years.
Climate change is shifting patterns of disease causing extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, severe storms, droughts and fires while degradation of air quality is affecting food and water supplies and sanitation.
According to estimates, well over 30 million deaths were caused by air pollution-related diseases in last five years around the globe making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
Millions of children are at risk of contracting deadlier diseases because of climate change including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition. Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College Professor Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry expressed this while talking to ‘The News’ on health threats becoming deadlier because of climate change.
He said the heat waves, which have become more frequent, are causing more severe rashes, cramps, exhaustion and dehydration, which is common cause of hyperthermia and death among infants and young children.
Experts say that over the years, human activities have greatly increased greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, etc. The increase in quantity of greenhouse gas emissions has raised the temperature of the earth, the phenomenon commonly known as Global Warming.
Human activities that produce greenhouse gases include increasing number of industrial processes, combustion of fossil fuels, emissions from power plants and vehicles. This effect has been made worse by cutting down trees and forests that help us by absorbing carbon dioxide.
Dr. Ashraf said that Pakistan has a little role to play in global warming phenomenon yet it is one of the countries that are facing its adverse effects. Climate change carries no passport; emissions released anywhere contribute to the problem everywhere. It is threat to lives and livelihoods everywhere. Economic stability and the security of nations are under threat. Projected global temperature rise of approximately 3 degree Celsius by the end of century is expected, he said.
He explained that the impact of droughts on agriculture is leading to malnutrition and under-nutrition, which is responsible for half of worldwide deaths of children under five years of age. He said implementing proven interventions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, like black carbon and methane (Sui gas), for example achieving higher vehicle emissions and efficiency standards, would be expected to save approximately 2.4 million lives a year and reduce global warming by about 0.5 degree centigrade by 2050.
Dr. Ashraf said that strengthening health resilience to climate risks, including measures such as early warning systems for more frequent and severe heat waves, and protection of water, sanitation, and hygiene services against floods and droughts, would ensure that recent progress against climate-sensitive diseases is not slowed or reversed.
He suggested that shifting to cleaner energy sources and increase in use of public transport, walking and biking can benefit health. The sooner we act, the greater the benefits for all, he said.
He added that for improving health, global warming issue should be our top priority. If we do not take preventive measures, this problem is bound to devastate Pakistan. Everybody can participate in the campaign against adverse effects of climate change by reducing the non-renewable sources of energy and increase use of renewable sources, he said.
He said that one can identify ways to reduce energy use and improve health through walking, cycling, using public transport, better waste management and choosing products with smaller carbon impact. When buying new appliances not only fridges, but also washing machines and dishwashers etc., choose those with high energy ratings. Many of the steps needed to prevent climate change have positive health benefits. For example, increase use of bicycles/walking and public transport instead of personal cars and it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he added.
He said it will also improve air quality and lead to better respiratory health and fewer premature deaths. The increase in physical activity will lead to less obesity and fewer obesity-related illnesses, said Dr. Ashraf.