The Challenges of Public Health and Environmental Stability

The environment and the climate are all part of our daily life. We live and interact with the environment and the climate also influences our lives by moderating and impacting our environment. Regardless of which continent one focuses one, the concerns are similar across the globe.

Many, many people across the globe live off the land. A large portion of the global population is totally dependent on agriculture and livestock farming. We call this subsistence farming. Regardless of nomenclature, these lives are hinged to and dependent on farming in an environment that is rapidly changing as the temperatures rise and the climate patterns keep changing. Their struggles are compounding.

environmental degradation

Rains are less frequent, less reliable or overwhelming inundating. The seasons are tending to be hotter, the soils more parched, the production levels of the land are wanning. There may even be more families dependent on securing food from the same land area. Yet the land is producing less in terms of food crops. Much of the land is under greater environmental stress and strain resulting in poor nutrient value of the soils resulting is lower crop yield. While malaria is still rampant and locust swarms are of biblical proportions, rising temperatures, lowering rainfall, all play their part in reducing the people’s capacity to provide for their families, and for the local and global market from these exhausted soils.

It is widespread knowledge that people across the globe are facing greater threats to public health, livelihood, sustainability from the lands due to climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is not just an environmental threat that impacts the people, but it is also a public health threat that is also increasing in severity each year.

For example, increasing temperature means that local climates are warming up,  and there are seasonal shifts with longer lasting seasons. This means that mosquitoes can now survive in places were previously it was not feasible. This warming climate extends the breeding season and the period of biting activity of the mosquitoes. It is not just nature that is embracing longer warmer and wetter seasons conducive for disease transmission, but disease such as Zika and Dengue fever,  are moving more aggressively into urban areas.

mosquito-control-measures

As climate changes, the issues that threaten the populace include extreme weather events such a rain bombs, and more frequent and more severe mudslides and flooding. This follows with reduced security in food supplies and access to drinkable water. These factors all give rise to human triggers for catastrophes such as political conflict, human trafficking, within and cross border wars, followed by internally displaced people and refugees fleeing across borders, as well as regulated people movement and migration in formal channels.

The usual listing of health-related concerns impacted by climate variability include water-borne disease, malnutrition, heat-related illnesses, air pollution and vector-borne diseases. The issues are the same, but the level of severity is compounded each year. Deadly water-borne diseases such as cholera and hepatitis are very familiar.  But as the water sources warm and the air temperatures also increase, there is a significant increase in the pathogens that cause these deadly diseases, where diarrhoea is one of the most common causes of death in children.

Climate change is impacting the level of food production such that there are greater food shortages leading to greater malnutrition and starvation. Less water availability means it is more difficult to grow and produce healthy food. The food quality is diminishing. On the other hand, excess water due to flooding may lead to greater pest and fungal disease which damages the crops also.

Rising temperatures results in heat waves of greater intensity and duration, as well as increased frequency. This leads to heat related illnesses such as heat stress and heat stroke. This targets both the very young and the elderly sectors of any population.

Next is the air pollution. The levels of pollutants are exacerbated by natural fires, burning of crop stubble and clearing of lands of rainforests, or simply dense vegetation for next season’s farming. The burning processes enhances the increase in air temperature leading to further climate change. Many of the fumes are carcinogenic and detrimental to the health of persons with chronic health conditions.

climate-change-public-health

As the climate patterns change with increasing temperature, higher humidity levels, greater areas exposed to stagnate pools of undrinkable water, diseases are readily transmitted, survive for longer, infect greater numbers of the local populations, and transmit more diseases.

Chain reactions escalate across the biosphere at all levels within the population and natural ecosystems. These collective scenarios threaten the resilience of the local communities. And in term, impact the scant or fragile health systems especially in poorer regions of the globe. People’s basic needs already are not being meet and are now being threatened by increased pressures on the natural environment. The situation is increasing in severity as now there are both the long-standing physical health concerns which are being intensified, and new unravelling environmental health issues and concerns that need to be managed or compensated for.

This growing instability in basic survival capacity raises the need for decisive action across the globe, concern for the most vulnerable communities, and an urgent need for mitigation to reduce environmental emissions and environmental footprints if we wish to ensure the survival of all people on the planet. This requires not just more reports on Climate Change and Sustainability Development Goals, but real action on the ground.

media and sustainable development

It all sounds good to reduce carbon footprint, reduce waste, embrace clean energy solutions, manage people movement efficiently. We have bandied these terms for decades now. It is time for real implementation with community-driven models, decentralised and locally empowered solutions that use local resources to solve local problems on community scale. The local people need to be involved in the local solutions to ensure the future of local communities within the natural local environs. These solutions need to address both the future of the local communities, the health of the environment, and especially the future health of the global communities.

About Claire Cosgrove

Dr Claire Cosgrove, Ph.D., is an independent Environmental Scientist and Educator. Looking to establish a consultancy company: “Cultural Awareness, Environmental Mindfulness”. Formerly a Professor of Environmental Sciences in the College of Engineering at AMA International University, Salmabad, Kingdom of Bahrain. Before moving to the Middle East in 2009, Dr Claire was a Research Scientist based in the USA at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and at Georgia Institiute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr Cosgrove has lived and worked in a number of countries such as South Africa, USA, New Zealand and the Middle East. Her research work has covered air pollution, weather modification /cloud seeding, rainfall modelling and simulation and flood forecasting, to name a few areas of interest.
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