The United Nations has warned that global warming and its effects, including a rise in air and sea temperatures and extreme weather patterns, not only endanger the planet but also pose a "major threat" to human health.
In his message marking this year’s World Health Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that in addition to causing more frequent and more severe storms, heat waves, droughts and floods, climate change affected the quality and availability of water and food – "our fundamental determinants of nutrition and health."There was a need to "give voice to this often-overlooked reality, ensuring that protecting human health is anchored at the heart of the global climate change agenda," Ban said.
He warned that while it were the world’s poor who contributed the least to climate change, they were to bear the maximum brunt of the human suffering resulting from the crisis.
Problems like malnutrition and climate-related infectious diseases will take their heaviest toll on the most vulnerable small children, the elderly and the infirm, he said, adding women living in poverty faced particular risk when natural disasters and other global-warming related dangers striked.
Stating that "climate change is real, it is accelerating and it threatens all of us," Ban called for collective action to combat the scourge for the sake of the planet as well as for those inhabiting it.
On the occasion, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said "The core concern is succinctly stated: climate change endangers human health"."The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the effects of extreme weather events more storms, floods, droughts and heat waves will be abrupt and acutely felt," Chan said.
She noted that human beings are already exposed to the effects of climate-sensitive diseases, including malnutrition, which causes over 3.5 million deaths per year, diarrhoeal diseases, which kill over 1.8 million, and malaria, which kills almost one million.
Recent events such as the European heat wave in 2003, Hurricane Katrina which struck the US in 2005 and cholera epidemics in Bangladesh are just a few examples of what can be expected in the future, she stressed.To address the health effects of climate change, WHO is coordinating and supporting research and assessment on the most effective measures to protect health, particularly for the most vulnerable such as women and children in developing countries.
It is also advising Member-States on the necessary changes to their health systems to protect their populations, and will be working closely with them in the years ahead to develop effective means of adapting to a changing climate and reducing its effects on human health, she said.
Meanwhile, the UNICEF highlighted the disproportionate impact climate change could have on women and children."Nearly 10 million children under age five die every year of largely preventable diseases," UNICEF Executive Director Ann M Veneman said.
"Many of the main global killers of children including malaria and diarrhoea are sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, and could become more common if weather patterns change," Veneman added.