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New book demonstrates how climate change impacts on health

The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are launching a major new study of the health impacts of climate change. The study examines, for example, how weather, air pollution, and water and food contamination affect the way diseases emerge. It further suggests effective means for all countries to monitor and control the health effects of climate change.

WHO and partners are also launching practical guidelines designed to help governments and other organizations monitor and assess the impact of climate change and take action to prevent those effects.

Climate change is responsible for 2.4 per cent of all cases of diarrhoea worldwide and for 2 per cent of all cases of malaria, according to the most recent figures available . Moreover, an estimated 150,000 deaths and 5.5 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years were caused in the year 2000 due to climate change.

"There is growing evidence that changes in the global climate will have profound effects on the health and well-being of citizens in countries throughout the world. We must better understand the potential health effects particularly for those who are most vulnerable, so that we can better manage the risks," said Dr Kerstin Leitner, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.

“Until now, most of the work being done on climate change was intended to bring results in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time. But we need to institute actions which will protect people’s lives now,” Dr Leitner added.

Today, the study “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses” is being launched at the 9th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Milan, Italy. WHO authored the book together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with the support of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition, the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization together with Health Canada, and with the support of UNEP and WMO, are launching the Guidelines entitled “Methods of Assessing Human Health Vulnerability and Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change”.

The 1990s were the hottest decade on record and the upward trend in the world’s temperature continues. In Europe this past summer for example, an estimated 20,000 people died due to extremely hot temperatures.

Rain can also have a major impact on health. When rainfall rises above normal levels, it can collect and stagnate, and the still water provides additional breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other vectors which transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

The book, launched today, describes the context and process of global climate change, its actual or likely impacts on health, and how human societies and their governments should respond, with particular focus on the health sector. Overall, scientists note, most of the health impacts of climate change would be adverse.

The Guidelines complement the book, providing practical information to governments, health agencies and environmental and meteorological institutions in both industrialized and developing countries on how to assess vulnerability and adaptation to climate variability and change at the regional, national and local levels. Flexible methods and tools are described to achieve better understanding of the current and future vulnerability of specific populations.

Copies of the book “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses” can be ordered here. A book summary can be downloaded from here, while copies of “Methods of Assessing Human Health Vulnerability and Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change” can be obtained from here.

For more information, journalists can contact Mr Gregory Hartl, Communications Adviser, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments, World Health Organization, Tel +41 22 791 4858; Fax +41 22 791 4725; Email; on 9, 10 and 11 December Mr Hartl will be contactable only on his mobile: +41 79 203 6715.

Italian journalists may contact Ms Cristiana Salvi, Technical officer for Communication and Advocacy, World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, Mob. +39 348 0192305, Fax +39 06 4877599, Email