To get to one of the last sessions on Monday, I had to walk through a maze of hallways thinking I would end up in a room that no one could find. This was not the case. People eager to learn more about the effects of climate change on global health occupied every chair as well as every inch of carpet space. Michal Brauer was speaking on air pollution, Jenna Davis on sanitation and water, Thomas Hinckley and Joshue Tewksbury on food security, and Kristie Ebi on the general effects of climate change.
Kristie Ebi immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention with very sobering statistics — the rate of climate change that we are experiencing today is faster than over the past 10,000 years combined. There are already places in the world that we can categorize as biologically extinct. These very rapid changes are likely to have significant health impacts as well.
The biggest health challenges result from the increase in frequency and intensity of weather events. We have seen this recently with the flooding in Pakistan and the aftermath that resulted. The most notable health effects from climate change can be seen in increases in malnutrition, deaths from extreme weather conditions, cardio-respiratory deaths from air quality, and higher rates of diarrhea related diseases. Climate change can also have an effect on the MDG goals. For example, extreme weather can lead to unpredictable agricultural seasons, which increases the likelihood of malnutrition. Furthermore, when aid programs shift funding around to assist in climate change events, this may result in less assistance for already established programs on the ground.
To conclude her talk, Ebi reminded the audience that we must understand the individual dynamics of a country to address global health issues arising from climate change disasters. She showed us a picture of flooding in Mozambique in 2000. Thousands of people were rescued from trees and the entire country seemed to be covered in water. As aid groups came in, they focused on immediate rescue efforts. However, by not understanding the countries individual nature, they did not know of land mines scattered all over the country. This resulted in hundreds of deaths, mostly children, who came across these land mines after the flooding. Climate change and global health are very complicated issues that we must approach cautiously and strategically in order to achieve the greatest impact for all.
Prepared by Jori Saeger