Climate Change a Public Health Issue for Small Islands

By HSealy
October 11, 2016

Earlier this year, leaders and policymakers from nearly 200 countries around the world met in Germany to continue what they promised at the historic COP21 conference — creating a plan that will limit global warming.

Climate change isn’t just about the health of the environment — it’s about the health of human beings, too. As global temperatures increase, new threats to public health are poised to have a devastating impact on many countries, particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Scientists have concluded that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have caused global temperatures to rise steadily, especially in recent years. In fact, the ten hottest years on record have all occurred within the last two decades.[1]

This warming has numerous effects on the environment. Weather patterns have become more severe and unpredictable.[2] Additionally, warmer ocean waters and melting ice caps have caused sea levels to rise an average of three inches since 1992.[3]

Around SIDS, oceans have risen more than four times faster than the global average.[4] As a result, some are even starting to disappear underwater.

Climate change has direct effects on public health, too. Warmer temperatures have allowed mosquitoes and other insects to spread deadly diseases — like malaria — to new areas.[5] Changes in rainfall have contaminated sanitation systems and increased exposure to water-borne diseases. Droughts and heat waves have led to food shortages, causing hunger and starvation.

All told, experts predict that, by 2030, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths each year from malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition, and heat stress.[6]

These health risks are even more dangerous for small island nations. Many SIDS are located in tropical climates where diseases thrive. Warmer temperatures could cause them to proliferate even more. Rising sea levels have also disrupted sewage and water systems, increasing the risk of diarrheal disease.[7]

Many SIDS lack the public-health resources needed to confront these challenges. The damage climate change will do to their economies and infrastructures could disrupt their public-health systems even more.[8]

Climate change is no longer a theoretical threat — it’s beginning to have very real negative effects around the world. Without action, those effects will only grow stronger. For small island states, in particular, climate change isn’t just an environmental or economic issue — it’s an existential one.

[1] http://climate.nasa.gov/blog/2224

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/default.htm

[3] http://time.com/4012341/nasa-sea-level-3-inches-higher/

[4] http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=2791&ArticleID=10879

[5] http://time.com/14553/climate-change-expand-malaria/

[6] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/

[7] http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/publications/cc_sids.pdf

[8] http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/publications/cc_sids.pdf

 

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