How Climate Change Impacts Health for Impoverished, Vulnerable Communities
Partners In Health
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September 22, 2022

How Climate Affects Community Health (CDC)

How would you explain the relationship between human health, climate, and environmental change?

At its simplest, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, all comes from our environment. Our sophisticated technologies and complex built environments can work to obscure this essential fact but ultimately, air, food, water, and even diseases that come from the environment all very much affect our health. From that basic standpoint, our health is integrally related to the health of the environment.

Global environmental change refers to damage to essential planetary systems which have widespread effects, including climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater depletion, and environmental contamination, such as water or air pollution. These are changes that are human imposed or human initiated that have effects throughout global ecosystems.

Let’s go on to specific examples and start with natural disasters, because that’s what most people think about in relation to climate change.

Climate change directly affects the frequency, intensity, and distribution of extreme weather events or weather hazards, including hurricanes, droughts, or floods. Once you impose them on a population, they can cause natural disasters. But natural disasters are not really natural, what actually creates human disaster is human and social vulnerability. Populations have different degrees of vulnerability to disasters because of social, economic, or health differences, and these factors are also affected by climate change.

Cyclones are more likely to occur because of climate change. But climate change also has effects on that population at baseline before they even had that cyclone. If changes in weather patterns like drought or flooding impair crop yields—particularly in areas with high levels of poverty without other systems in place to ensure populations have alternative access to food—rates of malnutrition will increase, particularly in children. And if a community is already malnourished, this can make them more vulnerable to the effects of a severe cyclone—on food and other health and economic outcomes.

Another example would be drinking water contamination after the cyclone from runoff, sewage, or saltwater. If people already have precarious access to clean water, and this is worsening due to freshwater depletion, then after the cyclone when water contamination occurs, the population is less able to find alternative sources of clean water, intensifying the health effects of the disaster.

Malaria incidence is anticipated to shift due to climate change, with some areas experiencing an increase due to warming temperatures or precipitation. This impacts the baseline health of a community. At the same time, cyclones have the potential to increase malaria risk in certain areas by increasing areas of standing water where mosquitos breed. Thus, climate change can increase the risk of certain infectious diseases, like malaria, in both the short- and long-term.

All of these things can put people's health at risk at baseline. And then that extreme weather event just makes it even worse and leads to disaster. We often call climate change a threat multiplier, because it worsens various health problems by exacerbating other widespread contributors to ill health, such as poverty. And not only does it exacerbate existing health problems, but climate change also increases the risk of developing new health problems, and creates difficulties for prevention and treatment of these problems.

Read the rest at Partners In Health

Related: The US Has Finally Acted on Climate Change Policy. What’s Holding Mexico Back? (Mexico News Daily)

Related: ‘We Will All Die if We Continue Like This’: Indigenous People Push UN for Climate Justice (Grist)

Notice: This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

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