Climate change linked to deaths in Asia-Pacific

9 July, 2007:

Climate change directly or indirectly contributes to about 77,000 deaths annually in Asia and the Pacific, according to a recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The World Health Organisation estimates that climate change has already – directly or indirectly – killed over 1 million people globally since 2000. More than half of those deaths have occurred in the Asia-Pacific, the world’s most populous region.

Those figures do not include deaths linked to urban air pollution, which kills about 800,000 people worldwide each year.

Dr Kevin Palmer, WHO representative to Samoa, a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, says that while the figure for the Pacific itself could not be obtained, the total figure for the Asia-Pacific region is a major cause for concern.

Major changes related to climate change such as the gradual disappearance of atolls do contribute to health problems, Dr Palmer said. The mosquito population in the region is on the increase and so is the prevalence of malaria.

Dr Shigeru Omi, World Health Organisation’s regional director for the Western Pacific, had warned recently: “We have now reached a critical stage in which global warming has already seriously impacted lives and health, and this problem will pose an even greater threat to mankind in coming decades if we fail to act now.”

Among the potential effects of global warming would be the appearance of mosquitoes where they were previously absent, with the accompanying threat of malaria and dengue fever, according to the World Health Organisation.

Some regions might be at risk of reduced rainfall, causing a shortage of fresh water and consequent danger of water-borne diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation, millions of people could be at risk of malnutrition and hunger if arable lands become unworkable.
Rising temperatures are contributing to more landslides in Nepal, dengue fever cases in Indonesia and flooding in India, threatening to put an even greater strain on health systems across the Asia-Pacific region.

Scientists have predicted that droughts will lower crop yields and raise malnutrition in some areas, dust storms and wildfires will boost respiratory illnesses, and flooding from severe storms will increase deaths by drowning, injuries and diseases such as diarrhoea.

Rising temperatures could lead to the growth of more harmful algae that can sicken people who eat shellfish and reef fish. People living in low-lying coastal areas will also face more storms, flooding, and intrusion of saltwater into fresh groundwater.

Health officials from over a dozen countries in the region met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 3, 2007, to outline the health problems the countries are experiencing related to climate change. They discussed ways to work together to limit the impact in a region expected to be hit hard by flooding, drought, heat waves, and mosquito- and water-borne diseases.




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