Asia at risk of greater climate-sensitive diseases

Aside from more droughts and floods, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the world has to deal with the impact of climate change on human health as the frequency and intensity of climate-sensitive diseases increases.

“The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events — more storms, floods, droughts, and heat waves — will be abrupt and acutely felt. Both trends can affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in the report Protecting Health from Climate Change, released on World Health Day 2008.

Warmer temperatures in the East African highlands, for instance, have created more favorable conditions for mosquito populations, thus increasing malaria. Thousands died in unexpected heat waves in Europe during the summer of 2003.

Given that climate-sensitive diseases, such as malnutrition and malaria, are concentrated in the developing world, thousands in Asia are therefore at greater risk of acquiring these diseases that have already killed millions. For instance, cholera epidemics in Bangladesh are closely linked to flooding and unsafe water.

“These trends and events cannot be attributed solely to climate change but they are the types of challenges we expect to become more frequent and intense with climate changes,” WHO said in the report. “They will further strain health resources that, in many regions, are already under severe stress.”