Big Effects on Little Bodies: Extreme Weather Events Associated with Climate Change Are Bringing Added Threats to Child Health and Safety. (Children & Health)

By Murkin, Elaine | Alternatives Journal, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Big Effects on Little Bodies: Extreme Weather Events Associated with Climate Change Are Bringing Added Threats to Child Health and Safety. (Children & Health)


Murkin, Elaine, Alternatives Journal


Climate influences many of the key determinants of health: temperature extremes and violent weather events; the geographic range of disease organisms and vectors; the quality of air, food and water; and the stability of ecosystems. For countries like Canada, the most significant risks of climate change will likely be related to changes in the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather, particularly heat waves and intense storms.

Among the predictions generated by sophisticated climate change models, one of the clearest is that there will be a notable increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. Because children's bodies are still developing, and they may not recognize the signs of heat stress, children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of extreme heat.

Periods of extreme heat are likely to have a greater impact on poorer children, who tend to live in low quality housing with poor ventilation and without air conditioning. Extreme weather events such as heavy rains and intense storms, hurricanes, hail, tornadoes, floods and droughts can cause injury and death, illness from contaminated water supplies, or the loss of homes. These impacts are especially difficult for children because they often do not have any experience handling abnormal situations and are, therefore, psychologically vulnerable.

Improved warning and preparedness systems can help inform people of extreme weather events and may help to reduce deaths and injuries, damage to property and disruption to food and water supplies. Philadelphia's "watch-warning" system, developed in 1995 to warn people of stressful weather conditions such as extreme heat, is a good example of what can be accomplished. This system helped save over 300 lives during the heat wave of 1995.

Land-use planning and zoning can help maintain control over development in high-risk zones and discourage settlement in these areas. Ensuring buildings and urban and rural infrastructures are built to withstand extreme weather events can also help reduce the negative impacts of these events.

Project "Storm Shelter", currently underway at the University of Western Ontario, is assessing the vulnerability of standard and low-cost housing to natural hazards and developing construction methods to reduce damage during these types of events. This project was undertaken to help developing countries design training programs to improve construction methods.

Warmer temperatures may also have implications for disease and human health in Canada.

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