Climate change will add to health burden in India: study

Environment and climate change

Climate change will add to health
burden in India: study

New Delhi, November 16th 2019: The public
health gains achieved in the past few decades, in the form of control or
elimination of infectious diseases and improvements in children’s health, could
be wiped out if uncontrolled climate change goes on, warns a new study released
on Thursday.

Climate change will result in serious
impacts in the health sector

Rising
temperature, extreme weather events and changes in food production – all
impacts of climate change – will result in serious impacts in the health
sector. For instance, rise in temperatures will make infants more vulnerable to
malnutrition as food prices go up with declines in yields of various crops. The
average yield potential of maize and rice has declined almost 2% in India since
the 1960s.

Changing
climate is resulting in alterations in temperature, precipitation and humidity,
which in turn, is increasing the suitability for transmission of various
infectious diseases, particularly mosquito-borne infections like dengue,
malaria and chikungunya. In India, the vectorial capacity of A. aegypti
and A. albopictus to transmit dengue has increased by 2.3% and 4.6%
respectively. The Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur,
Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura have seen 15 to 20 fold increases in numbers
of dengue cases since 2013, as temperature there rises.

Children
will be among the most to suffer from the rise in infectious diseases. With
climatic suitability for the Vibrio bacteria that cause cholera rising
3% a year in India since the early 1980s, the study has pointed out.

The study, done by 35 global
institutions, has been published in medical journal The Lancet.

It has focused on health damage from climate change
and lifelong health consequences of rising temperatures for a child born today if the world continues to follow ‘business-as-usual’
pathway
of carbon emissions.

Other health impacts of climate change will be in the form of worsening air pollution. In India, the total energy supply from coal has increased 11% from 2016 to 2018, and dangerous levels of outdoor fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) contributed to over 5 lakh premature deaths in 2016 and almost one lakh from this due to coal. Extreme weather events too will intensify.

With
its large population and high level of inequality, poverty and malnutrition, health
effects of climate change in India will be huge. “Diarrhoeal infections, a
major cause of child mortality, will spread into new areas, whilst deadly
heatwaves, similar to one in 2015 that killed thousands of people, could soon
become the norm”, noted Dr Poornima Prabhakaran from the Public Health
Foundation of India (PHFI), one of the co-authors of the study.

“Over
the past two decades, the government has launched many initiatives and
programmes to address a variety of diseases and risk factors. But our study report
shows that the public health gains achieved over the past 50 years could soon
be reversed by the changing climate,” she added.

By
2050, carbon dioxide concentrations are projected to reach levels which will
lead to zinc and protein deficiencies in an additional 50 million and 38 million
people respectively in India by 2050. About 400 million women of childbearing
age and 100 million children under 5 at will be greater risk of iron
deficiency. In addition, it is estimated that climate change could also cause a
decline in land productivity (in monetary terms) of 49%, impacting the
livelihood of farmers, according to a policy paper by PHFI and The Lancet
Countdown, released along with the study.

Researchers
have suggested establishing real-time monitoring and disease surveillance
systems linked to early warning systems for vector-borne disease outbreaks; promoting
crop diversification, water-smart and less labour intensive agricultural
operations to mitigate the impacts of climate change on food security and
nutrition; implementation of a coal phase-out strategy and accelerated
transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources. With updated Nationally
Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement due to be submitted
by 2020, health should be integrated throughout proposed interventions.

By Dinesh C Sharma

(India Science Wire)

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