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Bad for development: the health impacts of climate change

Following on from the recent World Health Organization conference on health and climate in Geneva, two blog posts on the complexities of development in the Indian Sundarbans and the fight against Ebola in Africa highlight the links between the two sectors.

As the effects of climate change are increasingly experienced around the world, the impacts of on health become clearer and deeper. In 2009, The Lancet stated climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Both physical and mental health, as well as health systems, are affected, including from extreme weather events such as flooding, weakened infrastructure, depleted agricultural production, pollution, forced migration and destroyed livelihoods.

At the 2013 UNFCCC Warsaw Conference on climate change, there were potentially hopeful signs that the links between climate change and health are being taken more seriously. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum from the World Health Organisation outlined these as:

  • The public identifies with the correlation between health and climate change.
  • The World Health Assembly has a resolution to act on climate change.
  • There are expanding programmes on health adaptation although there is now a need to try institutionalise programmes.
  • There are new initiatives supporting climate change mitigation. This includes decreasing air pollution and its effects.

The direct financial costs to health from climate change are estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion per year by 2030. In South Asia alone, the cost of climate change means that the region could lose a shocking equivalent of 8.8% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100. This could have a devastating effect on poverty levels, health and development progress. The question arises: how do we make sure that money is being funnelled into the right programmes?

‘Strengthening health system resilience to climate risks’ and ‘promoting health while mitigating climate change’ are the two main topics to be discussed at the World Health Organization (WHO) conference, taking place from 27 to 29 August. Health system resilience, climate-sensitive diseases (including malaria and diarrhoeal diseases), food and water security, and the environmental impact of the health sector itself are among the topics on the agenda. This global event brings together experts, technical specialists, advisors and policy makers to continue the much needed cross-sectoral dialogue, learning and sharing.

To mark the WHO conference, our colleagues in the Indian Sundarbans and South Africa have shared the real challenges on the ground and opportunities ahead in two blog posts:

Upasona Ghosh, Senior Research Officer at the Institute of Health Management Research works to explore and understand the uncertainties faced by the people of the Sundarbans region, due to climatic events, not only in direct relation to community health, but also to the other social determinants, such as livelihood and food security.

Mao Amis, Executive Director of African Centre for a Green Economy, explores the lessons that we can learn from the current Ebola outbreak when it comes to managing other diseases in the face of climate change.

Find out more about the conference and watch the live stream at the WHO website.


Impact of climate change on global malaria distribution
C. Caminadea; S. Kovatsc; J Rocklov / Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 2014
This study concludes that results show an overall global net increase in climate suitability and a net increase in the population at risk from malaria, but with large uncertainties. The study evaluated three malaria outcome metrics at...
WHO guidance to protect health from climate change through health adaptation planning
E. Villalobos Prats; K. Ebi / World Health Organization 2013
To aid the process of integrating climate-related health issues into the UNFCCC’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) framework, the World Health Organisation has created this guide aimed at decision makers involved in the planning o...
Atlas of mortality and economic losses from weather, climate and water extremes (1970–2012)
M. Golnaraghi; C. Etienne; D.G. Sapir; R. Below / World Meteorological Organization 2014
This report describes the distribution and impacts of weather, climate, and water-related disasters and highlights measures to increase resilience. It states these kinds of disasters are on the rise worldwide, causing loss of life and...
Climate change: Health impacts and opportunities a summary and discussion of the IPCC Working Group 2 report
D. McCoy; N. Watts / The Global Climate & Health Alliance 2014
In this briefing, health and medical organisations from around the world call on governments to respond to the major health risks described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s March 2015 report: ‘Impa...
Assessing the costs of climate change and adaptation in South Asia
M. Ahmed; S. Suphachalasai / Asian Development Bank 2014
This report predicts significant economic losses in South Asia as the region faces the challenge of achieving and sustaining rapid economic growth to reduce poverty and attain other Millennium Development Goals in an era of accentuate...
Climate change vulnerability and adaptation preparedness in southern Africa: Zimbabwe country report
T. Chagutah / Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa 2010
This report is about the state of knowledge on climate change vulnerability and adaptation preparedness in Zimbabwe. The report is aimed at supporting the demands of state and non-state southern African actors for climate chang...
Climate change and human health in cities
M.E. Barata; G. Ligeti; T. De Simone / Cambridge University 2011
This chapter presents issues and case studies relevant to human health in cities under climate change induced conditions. It argues that almost all the impacts of climate change have direct or indirect consequences for human he...
The impact of climate change on the health of the poor
Department for International Development, UK 2004
This DFID key sheet aimed at DFID staff and development partners considers the impact of climate change on the health of the world's poor, and explores tools for adaptation to climate change. Health-related impacts of climate change i...
Documentation of research on climate change and human health in southern Africa
O.P. Dube; M.J. Chimbari / University of Copenhagen 2009
This report focuses on climate change and human health in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region. This report promotes the idea of establishing a knowledge sharing and research network in the region, with speci...