World Health Day

Key messages for World Health Day 2008

Health is one of the areas most affected by climate change – and it is being affected now

The science is clear. The earth is warming, the warming is accelerating, and human actions are responsible. If current warming trends remain uncontrolled, humanity will face more injury, disease and death related to natural disasters and heatwaves; higher rates of foodborne, waterborne, and vector-borne illness; and more premature deaths and disease related to air pollution. Moreover, in many parts of the world, large populations will be displaced by rising sea level and affected by drought and famine. As glaciers melt, the hydrological cycle shifts and the productivity of arable land changes. We are beginning to be able to measure some of these effects on health even now.

Two women near trees uprooted by Hurricane Noel in the Dominican Republic.
WHO/PAHO
Trees lie uprooted by Hurricane Noel in the Dominican Republic. Climate change can lead to extreme or more frequent hurricanes, floods, heatwaves and droughts. Apart from causing death and injury, these events can increase risks of water and food contamination; alter vector ecology and ecosystems; and change social conditions.

The health impacts of climate change will hit the poor hardest

The physical effects of climate change will vary in different geographical locations. The human health impacts from climate change are further modified by such conditions as level of development, poverty and education, public health infrastructure, land use practices and political structure. Initially, developing countries will be hit the hardest. Countries with high levels of poverty and malnutrition, weak health infrastructures and/or political unrest will be the least able to cope. Moreover, if we fail to address climate change and its effects on health, we risk jeopardizing even further our ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Traditional public health tools are important components of effective response to climate change

Clean water and sanitation; safe and adequate food; immunization; disease surveillance and response; safe and effective disease vector control; and disaster preparedness are all critical components of public health practices that are also adaptations to climate change. These programmes need to be strengthened globally with special concentration of effort in high-risk locations and populations in order to prevent climate-related injury, disease and death.

Cross-sector, interdisciplinary partnerships are necessary to meet this global health threat

Climate change is wide ranging, and effective adaptation will require the building of partnerships to leverage the expertise of government agencies, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, industry and professional groups and local communities. Decisions affecting urban planning, transport, energy supply, food production, land use and water resources affect both climate and health. Collaboration across all these sectors is needed to find the innovative and effective solutions that will stabilize climate and protect health.

Action must begin now to protect health by applying both adaptation and mitigation

Scientific uncertainty persists about the possibility and timing of abrupt and catastrophic climate change if temperatures continue to rise. This makes it urgent for action to begin now to stabilize the climate through strong and effective mitigation undertaken simultaneously with adaptation activities to prevent increases in foreseeable climate-related illnesses. Full participation of the health sector in national and international processes for mitigation and adaptation to climate change is essential.

Share