Climate Change Impacts On Health & Wellbeing

The rise in global temperature and the impacts of human induced climate change has led to several environmental impacts across the globe. This has resulted in a widespread destruction of natural habitats, affected water and food security through the floods and draughts as well as intense fires in several regions. Despite the efforts to limit the effect of climate change and the ongoing discussions and initiatives, the recurring disasters are leading to health impacts on the human population at large. More specifically, those who have been directly affected due to destruction of homes or live in high-risk regions are facing heightened levels of stress which impacts mental health.

The problem- health impacts and risks

Climate change impacts human health both physiologically and psychologically. Five major health impacts due to climate change include malnutrition, deaths and injuries due to natural disasters, water scarcity and contamination, heatwaves and diseases. Air pollution and water pollution are already affecting people especially more vulnerable groups.

People with heart disease, asthma and lung conditions are at a higher risk of being affected from air pollution. Climate change can also affect pollen production, leading to worsened lung conditions such as asthma and allergic conditions such as hay fever1. With global warming, melting ice caps and glaciers are causing a rise in sea levels in different coastal areas around the world resulting in pushing saltwater into freshwater aquifers affecting aquatic life and drinking water quality. The effects of these changes does not only impact water quality, several areas are facing flooding whereas hot regions are facing draughts meaning that the water quantity is also being affected. Drought and hot weather can also lead to an increase cyanobacteria (blue–green algae) blooms in water systems which can be toxic1. With the water effects, it is evident that food production would get disturbed leading to a decrease in crop yields and food quality which would require an increased use of herbicides and pesticides due to increasing competition from weeds and pests on crop plants2. The trauma related to climate related disasters can cause mental health problems to those who have been affected as well as emergency workers and responders. An increase in aggressive behavior as well as anxiety were also recorded and have been linked to extreme weather events in some cases 3.

How can we take an action?

Tackling the impacts caused by Climate Change and the subsequent challenges requires action by governments, private sector and civil society. While subjects of energy and waste management can be at the forefront, it is necessary to set action plans and mitigation policies that respond to the health matters. Firstly, assessing risks and providing relevant short term action plans depending on geo-climatic areas can protect vulnerable populations. Research around early warning systems to protect against inevitable challenges can help support governments in establishing tools and systems where needed. Sustainable planning for new developments is as important as studying and upgrading existing buildings and would positively contribute to reducing GHG emissions with health co-benefits. Therefore, retrofitting buildings to withstand harsh environments and weather changes is one way to protect populations that are at risk. In large cities, the private sector and civil society are becoming more aware of sustainable strategies and climate change adaptation. It is now the time to enforce laws and to address these challenges on an individual level to protect ourselves and the environment.

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