[Yadav Prasad Joshi] –
South Asia is one of the most populous regions in the world and characterized by much diversity including the public health challenges. It comprises about 26% of the world’s population. The climate of this region is marked by a tropical monsoon and many livelihood needs and issues like food, water, health, and shelter are closely tied to it. Changes in climate may threaten these needs with increased temperatures, rise of sea level, changes in precipitation, and more frequent or intense extreme weather events.
This region is widely considered one of the world’s most vulnerable to climate change due to its high population, long coastlines and heavy reliance on agriculture for livelihoods and high dependence on natural resources.Consequences of climate change could be disastrous in this densely populated region, which already has a disproportionately high burden of communicable diseases.
Even today, climate-related risks threaten the lives, food security, health and wellbeing across many parts of South Asia. There are clear signs that the impacts of climate change are already being felt. The extreme weather events are seen in the increase of mean temperature, sea level, heat waves, heavy precipitation, tropical cyclones and global warming.
Principal impacts of climate change on health of this region are epidemics of malaria, dengue, and other vector borne diseases. The largest mass of victims of diseases like diarrhea and malnutrition which are observed as global burden of climate change belongs to South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives and Nepal. Illness and deaths are increasing from vector and water borne diseases due to flooding and drought. Mortality and morbidity, principally in the old and urban poor populations are increasing due to extreme heat and cold waves. High temperature and poor air quality in urban areas have caused the heat stress and smog induced illness particularly in urban population. Risks of climate sensitive diseases and health impacts can be higher in poor countries that have little competence to prevent and treat illness.
Air pollution in South Asian cities has grown with the increase in haphazard and uncontrolled industrialization and urbanization. According to Clean Air Asia, people in seven out of ten cities in developing Asian countries breathe air that is dangerous to their health and less than one percent of cities have truly clean air. South Asia is badly hit by pollution caused by particulate matter. While Pakistan has the highest concentration of particulate matter, countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India are placed by the WHO in a category called “unhealthy” for the sensitive people. Approximately, more than two million people die every year across the globe from air pollution with 65 percent deaths occurring only in Asia.
Threat of climate change and global warming has now been recognized worldwide and some alarming manifestations of changes have been witnessed. South Asian nations are affected significantly by the consequences of climate change. The higher risk groups of people include the urban poor, older adults, young children, traditional societies, subsistence farmers, and coastal populations.
There is abundant evidence that human activities are responsible for altering the earth’s climate and that climate change will have significant health impacts both domestically and globally. While all of the changes associated with this process are not predetermined, actions we take today will certainly help to shape our environment in the decades to come. Some degree of climate change is unavoidable, and we must adapt to its associated health effects; however, aggressive mitigation actions can significantly blunt the worst of the expected exposures.
Political structures and economic arrangements are very important in modifying the effect of droughts and other extreme events on health outcomes. Since, most of the countries in the region are prone to conflict and political instability and are also plagued by poverty and corruption, it can be easily argued that our political and economic structures are not ready in existing conditions to combat the harsh impacts of climate change.
The geography of this region has also made it highly susceptible to earthquake along the seasonal flood and droughts that further increase the health risks to the population from natural disasters and longterm effects of climate change. Public policy in South Asian countries cannot ignore such risks to health, which could have important social and economic consequences. Therefore, regional cooperation is essential for disaster preparedness, surveillance and health system response to disease outbreak which has obvious advantages to make the public health strategy. All the countries in this region are suffering from disease epidemics in a greater or smaller extent and with significant numbers of untimely deaths.
It is obvious that climate change is one of determinants in the infectious disease epidemiology. If all countries of this region make a combined effort to tackle the effects of climate change and health that will provide an opportunity to learn the best practices and certainly make valuable contribution in global health.
Climate change is one of the defining challenges of this century, and increasingly recognized as a public health priority. Research in this field is increasing, but is comparatively undeveloped due to complexity in this regards. Nowadays, It has also been observed that the issue of climate change has been used a source of business to some of the organizations without their prior knowledge on the scientific facts on burden of diseases associated to climate and reduction of climate sensitive health outcomes. Another challenging issue for the research is lack of time series database particularly related to climate variables; extreme weather events and surveillance that hinder in statistical modeling of disease, which absolutely hinder to formulate appropriate policy. An urgent call of time is the integration and cooperation among the environmental epidemiologists and climate scientists of South Asia to make our region healthy to live and fresh to breath. We must also think for our progenies how they will acknowledge us if we leave the similar environment to future generations.
(The author is pursuing PhD in Environmental Epidemiology, Sungkyunkwan University, Republic of Korea. He can be reached at email@example.com.)