Climate Change and Public Health Concerns
Climate change is a result of human activities that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Industries and individuals continue to generate increasing carbon footprints in the atmosphere and oceans. The toxins that are released from harsh chemicals, combustion of fossil fuels, production processes and consumption of electronics or automobiles accumulate in the atmosphere and keep building up over time, leading to health problems.
Climate change affects health through extreme weather patterns, floods, heat waves, droughts, air-borne or water-borne diseases and other natural disasters. Populations in less developed countries are more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and viral diseases. Recent trends indicate several regions of US and Europe are severely affected due to climate change, such as heat waves, tropical storms of 2017 in US and extreme cold.
Climate change is coupled with other changes that are equally detrimental to public health, such as overpopulation, urban growth, land clearance and natural resource depletion. Climate change affects both physical and mental health through various mechanisms. Human wellbeing is dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem. Ecosystem is an important source for food security, clean water and medicines. Since climate change is destructive to all levels of ecosystem, human health is at risk.
Heat waves pose health risks particularly for senior citizens. Due to global warming, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves in several regions around the globe. The heat wave of Europe in 2003 killed more than 2000 people. Urban areas are more likely to be affected by heat waves. The temperatures are higher than rural or suburban regions. Death rate increases when air pollution increases. High humidity levels also exacerbate health.
Natural disasters could lead to life-threatening injuries, loss, grief and mental disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Prolonged floods lead to water-borne diseases and increase death rates. Floods can destroy property, kill people and block access to clean water. Flooding could also cause explosion of nuclear power plants and spillover of harsh chemicals. The air pollutants facilitate respiratory diseases especially in low-income countries. Those who reside in coastal regions are more vulnerable to floods and health problems. Droughts reduce food and water supply, which can generate widespread malnutrition.
Since climate change keeps getting worse, frequent outbreaks of new, prolonged and pandemic diseases are being observed. Failure to take precautionary measures at individual and societal level could reduce a nation’s ability to cope with disasters and diseases.
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