Climate Change Poses Bigger Risk To Public Health Than Covid-19

Climate Change Poses Bigger Risk To Public Health Than Covid-19
Although much has been written about the effects of climate change on coral reefs, forest growth, crop yield, food security, and the economy, perhaps less recognized is its impact on human health. The truth is that the climate crisis has become the most prominent health issue of our time, even more significant than the Covid-19 pandemic. Deaths from climate change related causes are predicted to be threefold in 2050 compared to other factors. Globally, seven million people die prematurely from air pollution every year, far more than the deaths recorded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

There's been a surge in chronic diseases linked to air pollution. The report suggests that these diseases also lead to an increase in cancer rates. The number of deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer caused by air pollution has increased by 160% in the last 30 years, and has triggered genetic mutations in a few genes linked to lung cancer. The cost to human health is enormous and is likely to increase. Healthcare organizations need to do all they can to help those suffering from the effects of the climate crisis.

The burden of climate diseases on public health and the overall global economy is growing. Poor health is estimated to cost 15 percent of worldwide GDP. It is not just automakers, oil companies, and airlines at fault; the healthcare sector itself accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gases, contributing to the climate crisis and global warming.

World governments need to change business incentives in favor of green businesses, so that investment can be directed towards companies taking bold and scientifically backed measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. Decarbonizing the economic process can also be an opportunity and an engine of growth.

Global warming and climate changes also have numerous dangers to the health and well-being of the people of Pakistan. The country is experiencing numerous climate-related natural risks due to its geographic variety and diverse continental, tropical weather patterns. The country is experiencing frequent heatwaves, droughts, riverine flash floods, and landslides. Climate change is predicted to intensify the frequency and severity of these storms and increase the vulnerability of individuals.

Pakistan is one of the least developed countries in the region, the economy is largely agrarian, and heavily dependent on climate-sensitive water, land, and forest resources for sustenance and food security. Over 40% of the population suffers from multidimensional poverty, and climate change has led to livelihood losses and enormous impacts on people's health and their ability to pay for healthcare. Health impacts, notably through heat exhaustion and waterborne illnesses, can hinder people's ability to make a living.

Climate change in Pakistan will likely increase the frequency of floods and rainfalls that cause seasonal and waterborne diseases. People with weak immune systems will be most at risk of contracting these diseases. Moreover, deaths due to air pollution can reach 2.9 million, considered the most significant risk factor for death in Pakistan in 2017. Most of Pakistan's population lives in areas with PM2.5 concentrations exceeding the WHO's most stringent air quality standard.

In this context, the effects of climate change on public health need to be considered a priority, and the Ministry of Health should seek to identify and address the impacts of climate change on human health. Civil society ought to be heavily involved in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The author is Chairman at the Economics department at The Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB), Pakistan