WHO: Warming World Will Spread Deadly Diseases
A bulletin released by the World Health Organization(WHO) titled Climate change and its potential impact on health: a call for integrated action warns that a warming world will spread deadly diseases to areas now free of them. The bulletin authored by Jacob Kumaresan and Nalini Sathiakumar focussed on the densely populated areas of South-East Asia which holds about a quarter of the world's population and a disproportionate percentage of the poor.
Of the 14 million deaths that occur in the region annually, 40% are attributable to communicable diseases. Increased average temperatures could prolong peak periods for vector-borne diseases,4 and extreme weather events, including cyclones and floods, can create ideal conditions for the spread of vector-borne and diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera.5 In much of the region, dengue is spreading not only geographically, but in explosive outbreaks. It has been reported in the mountainous countries of Bhutan and Nepal since 2002.1
In the past the warm, river delta areas of the world have been hospitable to human civilization. Rich coastal soils encouraged agriculture and coastal locations supported trade. Most of the world's great cities are built on navigable rivers or safe harbours.
With today's changing climate many of these advantages are being lost.
As ocean levels creep higher, salt water infiltration of agricultural lands renders them sterile. Wells become brackish and unuseable.
As farmers lose agricutural production they and their families enter a spiral of poverty which erodes housing and health. Some people migrate to already overcrowded cities.
A warmer world has more energy in the weather, leading to more extreme weather events. Longer droughts, more intense rainstorms, more powerful destructive storms will displace more people.
A warmer world is more hospitable to disease carrying insects, vectors of many diseases. Overcrowding and poverty expose populations to communicable diseases.
Why Should We Care About Disease in SE Asia?
In the temperate climate zones of the world we have been relatively safe from the tropical scourges of cholera, dengue fever, parasitic worms and hemorrhagic fevers. We are not immune to the spread of these diseases however. Historically the population of the United States has played host to malaria, cholera and a variety of parastic worms. As the climate warms in the temperate zones insects and their diseases can spread more easily. A simple example of this is the mild winter we have experienced on the West Coast. It failed to kill off dog fleas. Fleas are vectors for a variety of serious diseases including bubonic plague. The spread of a formerly African disease - West Nile Virus - has spread with breathtaking speed across N. America in the past few years via mosquitoes.
So aside from purely humanitarian reasons, we should care because spreading disease can reach us.
What WHO Proposes
A concerted effort has to be made to involve national and local partnerships and networks with all relevant stakeholders, as increased financial allocation for health programmes will be needed to develop comprehensive plans for addressing the effects of climate change on human health.