Climate change, often seen as an environmental menace, is now emerging as a significant threat to public health as well. The 2003 heatwave in France, which resulted in the death of thousands, serves as a bleak reminder of the deadly consequences of extreme heat. Over the past two decades, the number of heat-related fatalities has seen a sharp increase, with the summer of 2022 alone witnessing tens of thousands of deaths. A recent report from The Lancet predicts a staggering 370% increase in heat-related deaths by mid-century if global warming reaches 2 C above pre-industrial levels.
The Health Impacts of Rising Temperatures
Higher temperatures are associated with numerous health risks. In the United States, there has been an increase in premature births, and the risk of kidney disease is on an upward trend due to the body's inability to cope with intense heat. Extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change, pose a diverse range of health threats including economic disruption and the spread of diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio, typically due to damaged infrastructure.
The rise in temperatures is also aiding the proliferation and efficiency of disease-carrying insects. More than 100 countries are now affected by dengue, a stark increase from just 9 in 1970.
Climate Change and Zoonotic Diseases
Increased human contact with wild animals due to climate change is leading to a surge in zoonotic diseases. Each year, diseases contracted from animals are responsible for 2.7 million deaths, a number that is expected to rise. To combat these threats, measures such as insecticide-treated nets, preventive treatments, and early warning systems linked to climate forecasts are being employed.
Implications for Water Supply
Climate change has serious implications for water supply, both in terms of quantity and quality. The increasing frequency and severity of droughts and floods could potentially lead to diseases and famines due to compromised water supplies.