Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Health Effects of Global Warming: Developing Countries Are the Most Vulnerable

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Health Effects of Global Warming: Developing Countries Are the Most Vulnerable

Article excerpt

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the increase in global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) is primarily due to fossil fuel use and, in a smaller but still significant level, to land-use change.

An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary by former United States Vice-President Al Gore, has also drawn public attention to the critical issue of global warming and how the burning of fossil fuels has increased the amount of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere. Global warming can result in many serious alterations to the environment, eventually impacting human health. It can also cause a rise in sea level, leading to the loss of coastal land, a change in precipitation patterns, increased risks of droughts and floods, and threats to biodiversity. The effects are already evident in areas like Nunavut, Canada, where Inuit hunters are facing survival challenges due to the thinning of the ice. Explorer Will Steger gives an account of hunters in the Baffin Island, who are faced with the dilemma of unsafe hunting due to ice loss, risking their lives to get in contact with sea animals.

Besides the visible effects on people's livelihoods, global warming is predicted to have a strong and adverse impact on human health. The populations of countries that have contributed the least to global warming are the most vulnerable to death and diseases brought about by higher temperatures. The coastlines along the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean and in sub-Saharan Africa will be at higher risk of enduring the health effects of climate change

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that climate change is responsible for at least 150,000 deaths per year, a number that is expected to double by 2030. The effects of global warming will cause dire health consequences:

Infectious diseases. IPCC predicts that global warming will worsen human health conditions, especially in tropical regions. In places like Africa, an increase in temperature signifies an increase in mosquito populations, thus escalating the risk of malaria, dengue and other insect-borne infections. Other regions are also affected. The United States experienced varying levels of malaria outbreaks; in 2006, the United Kingdom was plagued by an outbreak of legionnaires' diseases--a bacterial lung infection that scientists attribute to global warming. WHO states that global warming will also cause a major increase in insect-borne diseases in Europe. Countries like Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkey might already be in the danger zone for mosquito-borne malaria. However, the ability to tolerate temperature changes differs from region to region. Richer societies can utilize technological advances; for example, the use of more powerful air conditioners and the construction of houses minimize heat retention. On the other hand, developing countries lack not only the technological know-how, but also the resources and public health systems, required to prevent such outbreaks.

Heatwaves. Prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures can have serious health effects on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and the sick. This was already seen during the 2003 heatwave in Europe, which claimed approximately 35,000 lives. …

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