Global warming poses grave risks to human health
Climate change poses risks to human health with a rise in allergies, infectious diseases, malnourishment and other health problems, says Dr Sandrine Segovia-Kueny of the French Health And Environment Association.
What is the impact of climate change on people’s health?
The World Health Organisation published findings as early as 2000 showing that global warming caused 150,000 deaths each year – deaths that would not have occurred in a normal context. We expect that number to rise to 500,000 deaths per year by 2030.
Yet the impact of climate change on our health is a little-known issue. People think it’s a marginal problem. We can see this even in the current summit at Copenhagen.
Which countries are most affected by climate-caused health problems?
As usual, developing countries are the most vulnerable. Climate change favours the spread of diseases transmitted by mosquito or tick bites, like dengue fever, malaria, or yellow fever, which are most rampant in sub-Saharan countries in Africa. The disease-carrying insects reproduce more and live longer in warmer temperatures. Global warming also causes natural disasters like floods, cyclones or massive draughts. There again, developing countries are the hardest hit.
Are rich countries also affected?
In developed countries, floods caused by climate change are already responsible for many human casualties. There are also heat waves: we expect there to be one major heatwave every two years in France at the end of the 21st century.
Children and people suffering from asthma are also particularly at risk, because they are particularly sensitive to air pollution. Global warming makes air pollution spikes
more frequent and aggressive.
Mosquito-transmitted diseases also exist in Europe, although to a lesser degree. Lyme disease, an infection transmitted by ticks, is emerging everywhere in Europe. Certain people say that malaria could resurge in Europe – I think it’s very possible. France has a good healthcare system and is well equipped to fight the disease, but other Mediterranean countries may not be as well prepared.
Finally, climate change favours the development of all sorts of allergies: it is estimated that one out of two people will suffer from allergies by 2050. Spring pollen season, well known to all those who suffer from hay fever, lasts longer in warmer climates. And the pollen produced by plants growing in polluted atmospheres is more allergenic.