In commemoration of World Health Day, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, warned that climate change stands to exacerbate health crises in the world’s poorest communities.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that new patterns of global rainfall, droughts and storms could accelerate the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever in some regions, creating serious problems for poor nations.
“The climate change-sensitive diseases and conditions are already creating huge burdens in many countries… The impact of climate change can act as an amplifier,” she told a news conference in Geneva, where the United Nations agency is based.
Confronting the health challenges from global warming will require concerted efforts to forecast changing weather patterns, fight mosquitoes and other disease-spreading bugs, distribute vaccinations and boost medical coverage, Chan said.
In sub-Saharan Africa, projections indicate that changing climate patterns will have serious implications on agricultural productivity, water availability and human health.
-The areas suitable for agriculture, the length of growing seasons and the yield potential of food staples are all projected to decline- some African countries could see agricultural yields decrease by 50% by 2050 and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100.
-Rising temperatures can alter runoff patterns and increase water evaporation rates, which can severely reduce the availability of water. By 2020, an additional 75-250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.
-Previously malaria-free highland areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi could experience modest incursions of malaria by the 2050s, with conditions for transmission becoming highly suitable by the 2080s. In total, an additional 260-320 million people worldwide could be living in malaria infested areas by 2080.
While these trends and events can not be attributed solely to climate change, they are the types of challenges that will become more frequent and intense with increasing climate variation.
Read about World Health Day 2008: Protecting Health from Climate Change
Read more about how climate change will impact sub-Saharan Africa.