Health impacts of climate change in Pacific Island countries: a regional assessment of vulnerabilities and adaptation priorities

Health impacts of climate change in Pacific Island countries: a regional assessment of vulnerabilities and adaptation priorities

Between 2010 and 2012, the World Health Organization Division of Pacific Technical Support led a regional climate change and health vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning project, in collaboration with health sector partners, in thi rteen Pacific island countries - Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The objective of the project was to assess the vulnerabilities of Pacific island countries to the health impacts of climate change and plan adaptation strategies to minimize such threats to health. Methods: This assessment involved a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques. The former included descriptive epidemiology, time series analyses, Poisson regression and spatial modeling of climate and climate-sensitive disease data, in the few instances where this was possible; the latter included wide stakeholder consultations, iterative consensus -building and expert opinion. Vulnerabilities were ranked using a '€œlikelihood versus impact'€ matrix, and adaptation strategies prioritized and planned accordingly.

The highest priority climate-sensitive health risks in Pacific island countries include trauma from extreme weather events; heat -related illnesses; compromised safety and security of water and food; vector-borne diseases; zoonoses; respiratory illnesses; psychosocial ill- health; non-communicable diseases; population pressures and health system deficiencies. Adaptation strategies relating to these climate change and health risks can be clustered according to categories common to many countries in the Pacific region.

The paper concludes that Pacific island countries are among the most vulnerable in the world to the health impacts of climate change. This vulnerability is a function of their unique geographic, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, combined with their exposure to changing weather patterns associated with climate change, the health risks entailed, and the limited capacity of the countries to manage and adapt in the face of such risks.

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