Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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3.5. Human Health

The impacts of short-term weather events on human health have been further elucidated since the SAR, particularly in relation to periods of thermal stress, the modulation of air pollution impacts, the impacts of storms and floods, and the influences of seasonal and interannual climatic variability on infectious diseases. There has been increased understanding of the determinants of population vulnerability to adverse health impacts and the possibilities for adaptive responses. [4.7]

Many vector-, food-, and water-borne infectious diseases are known to be sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. From results of most predictive model studies, there is medium to high confidence6 that, under climate change scenarios, there would be a net increase in the geographic range of potential transmission of malaria and dengue-two vector-borne infections each of which currently impinge on 40-50% of the world population.10 Within their present ranges, these and many other infectious diseases would tend to increase in incidence and seasonality-although regional decreases would occur in some infectious diseases. In all cases, however, actual disease occurrence is strongly influenced by local environmental conditions, socioeconomic circumstances, and public health infrastructure. [4.7]

Projected climate change will be accompanied by an increase in heat waves, often exacerbated by increased humidity and urban air pollution, which would cause an increase in heat-related deaths and illness episodes. The evidence indicates that the impact would be greatest in urban populations, affecting particularly the elderly, sick, and those without access to air-conditioning (high confidence6). Limited evidence indicates that in some temperate countries reduced winter deaths would outnumber increased summer deaths (medium confidence6); yet, published research has been largely confined to populations in developed countries, thus precluding a generalized comparison of changes in summer and winter mortality. [3.5 and 4.7]

Extensive experience makes clear that any increase in flooding will increase the risk of drowning, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, and, in developing countries, hunger and malnutrition (high confidence6). If cyclones were to increase regionally, devastating impacts would often occur, particularly in densely settled populations with inadequate resources. A reduction in crop yields and food production because of climate change in some regions, particularly in the tropics, will predispose food-insecure populations to malnutrition, leading to impaired child development and decreased adult activity. Socioeconomic disruptions could occur in some regions, impairing both livelihoods and health. [3.5, 4.1, 4.2, 4.5, and 4.7]

For each anticipated adverse health impact there is a range of social, institutional, technological, and behavioral adaptation options to lessen that impact. Adaptations could, for example, encompass strengthening of the public health infrastructure, health-oriented management of the environment (including air and water quality, food safety, urban and housing design, and surface water management), and the provision of appropriate medical care facilities. Overall, the adverse health impacts of climate change will be greatest in vulnerable lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries. Adaptive policies would, in general, reduce these impacts. [4.7]

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