Climate change brings new health threats, says WHO

August 28th, 2014 (VOA) GENEVA—The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that major killer diseases will spread and health problems will worsen with climate change.

The WHO, which is holding the first global conference on health and climate in Geneva, urged nations to act quickly to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, which lead to climate change.

Although some countries could see localized benefits from global warming — cold countries could experience fewer winter deaths due to more temperate weather as well as increased food production — the WHO says overall health effects are likely to be overwhelmingly negative.

Maria Neira, director of the Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health Department at WHO, says seven million people die prematurely every year because of air pollution, but that number can be cut.

“We can reduce dramatically non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular diseases, heart disease, respiratory diseases, by promoting, for instance a more sustainable, low-carbon society where instead of using very pollutant and solid fuels,” Neira said, “we will move into a more sustainable energy consumption and, therefore, by doing so, we will obtain plenty of benefits for our health.”

The health community is working to improve surveillance to control infectious diseases and she says deadly diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue are highly sensitive to weather and climate.

Recent WHO figures show that climate change already causes tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease and extreme weather events, such as heat waves and floods.

Climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths every year between 2030 and 2050 due to heat exposure, diarrhea, malaria, and childhood under-nutrition.

Alistair Woodward, the coordinating lead author of the health chapter of theFifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says there is opportunity for positive change.

“Transport systems, which produce maybe a quarter of the greenhouse emissions, are unhealthy and damaging to the environment in many ways,” Woodward said. “If we could increase the use of active transport, our estimates are putting people on bikes, the benefit cost ratio is maybe 10 to one…Air pollution…If we put in practice what we know about ways of reducing black carbon emissions, diesel filters, plain cook stoves, for example, then we could probably save around two million premature deaths a year.”

The WHO notes that climate change also has serious economic consequences. The U.N. agency says the direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between $2 billion and $4 billion a year by 2030.

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