Anthropogenic climatic change is adversely affecting our health which is becoming more severe with each passing year. As per conservative estimates, climate change causes more than 150,000 additional deaths per year. Climate change is threatening public health in general. The population of developing countries, arid regions, coastal areas, mountains and Polar regions are the most exposed to experiencing negative health effects associated with climate change. Children and elderly, especially in poor countries, are the most vulnerable groups.
Researches confirm that the average temperature will increase in the Middle East up to 2°C by 2050; therefore, the frequency of heat waves will rise. Rising summer temperatures will increase morbidity and mortality caused by cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. For example, more than 70,000 additional deaths were recorded during the heat wave that affected Europe in the summer of 2003. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to intense heat is linked with fainting, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and kidney stones.
Greenhouse gases affects the ozone layer causing ozone thinning and decreasing in absorption of harmful rays, which means increasing the concentration of UV rays reaching Earth, and thus an increased risk of skin diseases, skin damage, sun burns and skin cancer.
Natural Disasters and Changing Rainfall Patterns
Rising sea levels will result in relocation of residents of coastal areas which will in turn lead to an increase in the risk of health and psychological disorders.
Climate change affects the basis of health, namely adequate water and food resources; Water scarcity and quality deterioration affects health and hygiene negatively, since both will increase the risk of diseases, especially diarrhea, besides, water scarcity leads to serious health consequences such as drought and famine. Researches indicate that water scarcity will cause a 50% decrease in the basic food production in African countries by 2020, which in turn will increase the prevalence of malnutrition.
Hurricanes, floods and wildfires cause pollution of freshwater sources and increase the risk of water-borne diseases outbreak as they create conditions favorable to insect vectors, such as mosquitoes and flies, additionally, environmental disaster are known to disturb one basic pillar of health, namely :adequate shelter, the destruction of homes and exposure of people to infectious diseases, such as cholera and dysentery to name two, in addition to placing pressures on social and economic systems that sustain health, which can contribute to poverty and conflict.
Disease control is vital for both the health and economic growth of developing countries. Climate change hinders the of elimination of transmission disease, by favoring severe thermo-allergic reactions and deadly disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, flies, rodents, snails as well as the shifting in the geographic distribution of these disease vectors. Many dangerous infectious diseases are sensitive to temperature, humidity and rainfall, namely cholera.
Examples of deadly diseases favored by changing of climate, includes malaria and dengue. Climate change affects the geographical distribution and intensity of malaria transmission by favoring its vector “Anopheles” misquotes. The incubation period of the malaria parasite is 26 days at 25 °C, but it is reduced to 13 days at 26 °C.
Observations show an increase of malaria transmission in Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Likewise, heavy rainfall and high temperatures leads to an increase in the transmission of dengue fever. By 2080, an estimated 2.5 billion more people will be at risk of contracting dengue fever worldwide.
The changing climate is affecting the basic requirements for maintaining health — including clean air. Changing wind patterns contributes to transfer of dust, pollen, bacteria, mold, allergens cause’s respiratory infections and airborne diseases. Intense heat is expected to increase this burden due to the continued rising in temperature.
Moreover, rising temperatures and increasing in ground-level ozone is intensifying the rate and severity of asthma attacks, and causes irritation of the eyes and nose, cough, bronchitis and respiratory infections. In 1998 a scientific study conducted in Riyadh concluded that the dust sandstorms are a major source of respiratory diseases.
Response and Adaptation
The contribution of Arab countries to climate change mitigation is minimal; hence Arab world is facing its significant impacts, especially health threats consequences. Therefore, Middle East nations should take adaptation measures to reduce the health consequences associated with climate change and need to adopt an integrated approach to minimize its devastating effects. Some of the plausible solutions are as follows:
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, adoption of green building, trees planting, biodiversity protection and integrated sustainable management of land, water and waste.
- Reduction in vehicles usage by promoting public transportation, cycling and walking. These actions are needed to reduce the emission of carbon, and to bring many health benefits, such as reducing air pollution.
- Preparing a resilience plan and risk mapping showing vulnerable areas such as arid lands, and crowded cities.
- Research to assess climate change impact on health in the Arab world.
- Capacity building and development of health systems and their adaptation to respond to climate change.
- Increasing public awareness about climate change threats to human health.
- Facilitating access to information and knowledge and experience exchanging about the disease and the effects of climate change.
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