Climate change and human health: Indian context

Climate change and human health: Indian context

Review of the potential health impacts of climate change in India

Climate change can have direct negative consequences on a number of health indices, due to climate affecting water, air quality, disease and physical comfort. As the risk of increasingly variable and severe climatic change is becoming more apparent, the aim of this article is to review the current understanding of the potential effects on health in the Indian context and identify scope for addressing problems.

A recent Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) report projected the Himalayan region, the north-eastern region, the western ghats and coastal regions to be most vulnerable to climate change by 2030. Rainfall is likely to reduce in each area, with the exception of the Himalayas, and cyclones will become less frequent but more severe. Sea level rises of around 1.3mm per year have been projected, but there is no consensus on whether temperatures may rise or fall.

The article explains the variety of potential health impacts of climate change in India:

  • with deaths attributed to heatwaves already an issue (1658 cases in 1998), mortality in India is expected to rise along with associated eye and skin disease;
  • warmer air concentrates pollutants and aeroallergens, which when combined with increasing urban pollution is likely to increase cardiovascular and respiratory diseases;
  • increased mortality − both direct and indirect (loss of food security, damage to health and infrastructure, diseases) − as a result of increased frequency of climate-related disasters;
  • a projected two to three month extension of the transmission window for mosquito-borne diseases in several states;
  • potential increase of diarrhoeal disease (especially through flood contaminated water), dengue and Japanese encephalitis, although more research is needed in this regard;
  • sea level rise will inundate costal areas, disproportionately affecting the poor in terms of mortality, stress and loss of infrastructure.
Intervention, preventative strategies, development and quality of life may all impact these predictions; disease in particular can be amenable to dramatic mitigation results. The study concludes that extensive research is needed to determine limits of malarial transmission, and significant local and national situation analyses must be undertaken to identify operational gaps and assess needs.
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