The influence of climate change on human health
The estimated by the World Health Organisation influence of climate change on health in the period 2030-2050, will amount to over 250 000 premature deaths each year1. However, this number can be understated because the estimates haven't included the economic damages connected with heatwaves, floods, and the shortage of water. The essential role in the assessment of health risk is played by the interactions between climate change and other trends having an influence on public health such as the poverty level, migrations, the density of settlement, and the demographic changes.
In the case of the direct effect usually, we talk about the consequences caused by singular climate threats connected with an occurrence and intensity of climate phenomena, often classified as extreme, differing with intensity and frequency of occurrence from the averagely observed in the last decades3.
The appearance of these threats is strongly diverse in the scale of the globe. In the case of the European continent, there are such extremal phenomena like strong winds, tornados, hurricanes, intense hail, short-term storms. As a result of these phenomena each year we observe around 1000 confirmed cases of body injuries and approximately 300 casualties4. The often-used example is the occurrence of thunderstorms, however, health effects are random and incidental. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the crucial and direct threat to the health of the general population of many countries, connected with climate change is the occurrence of heatwaves and chills5.
The decided majority of the health effects concerns, however, the indirect influence of climate change, observed as a result of the occurrence of complex environmental, economical, and social processes. The most common diagnosed indirect consequences include vector and waterborne diseases. Moreover, the health, economic and psychological consequences connected with the loss of possessions and the sense of security, or the limited access to food, and water for consumption become a big problem.
The four major threats in Europe
The social dimension of health
The evaluation of the health effects of climate change is immeasurably difficult to assess. It is almost certain that the poorest and most vulnerable communities will suffer in the first place but the mutually connected character of the climate systems, ecosystems, and demography can disturb the conditions of growth of the whole populations15.
Considering the observed demographic tendencies (mainly the aging of societies and general growth of population on the Earth), and urban (gathering of people in cities, considerable interferences in ecosystems), and also more and more often noticeable migrations of people in the face of changing climate – the number of people vulnerable to the climate threats gradually grows. This state has serious consequences in the context of planning suitable adaptive actions, including those directed to the protection of public health.
The adaptive actions taken to diminish the health risk of humans are not unequivocal and should be considered in a multi-layered multi-dimensional way. For example, the raise of areas of green-blue infrastructure (like constructing little retention or areas of greenery in cities) on the one hand diminishes the health risk connected with heatwaves, and heavy rains causing local flooding, on the other considerably raises the risk of vectors' appearance and the exposure of people to pathogens.
We should stress out that the influence of climate change on health in a certain, general population is not equally spread. The scientific research indicates the groups of people especially vulnerable because of socio-economical inequalities. Children belong to the most vulnerable groups, elderly people and persons with existing health problems, including the disabled. Climate change affects especially homeless, poor, and socially marginalized people.
Author: Krzysztof Skotak IOŚ-PIB
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