Rainforests trap huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and cutting trees down accelerates the impact of climate change and related health effects. (AP Images)
Health and climate change are directly related. As the Global Health Council puts it, “A change in the conditions in our ecosystem also leads to changes in our relationship with it. Health impact is one component of this relationship.” Whether the effects are direct, like heat stroke, or indirect, like rising temperatures causing disease carrying vectors to survive at higher elevations and thus infecting even more people, impoverished people are particularly vulnerable.
The organization Health Poverty Action has an entire section devoted to climate change and health, and they discuss how poor people in developing countries are most at risk, “partly because of geography and partly because they lack the resources to adapt quickly to the impacts of climate change.” The site goes on to explain that
As temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change, crop yields are expected to drop significantly in Africa, the Middle East and India, while densely populated coastal areas and small island states will be particularly vulnerable to floods. Increased flooding will spread more water-borne diseases like diarrhea, while droughts will breed insects and rodents affecting food, water supplies and health. With rising temperatures, diseases like malaria, West Nile disease, dengue fever and river blindness will shift to new areas.”
To help combat these issues in Laos, Health Poverty Action is working with local communities to help them develop sustainable livelihoods that will allow them to be more resilient to environmental changes.
For a more in depth look at the relationship between poverty, climate change and health in Pacific Island countries, check out Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service’s paper “Poverty, Climate Change and Health in Pacific Island Countries.”
Sambi Bhen waits for water in the arid Indian state of Gujarat. Rapid industrialization has caused groundwater levels to drop, making water expensive and harder to obtain. (AP Images).
Improving the management of water resources and ensuring that everyone in the world has sustainable access to clean water and sanitation go hand-in-hand. I believe that if we tackle the issue of water scarcity from the perspective of the poor—nearly a billion of which face water scarcity now—solutions will roll up into impacting needs at the macro level—water resource management.
Right now there is plenty of fresh water available to satisfy needs for domestic (household) purposes; it’s a matter of access. Most people who do not have clean water access are living in poverty and don’t have access because of lack of financial resources or limited political rights. For example, a woman in rural Ethiopia is walking miles for water from an unprotected stream, when clean water is readily available 30 meters below her feet; her community just can’t afford to hire the rig to drill down. Or, people living in slums in India don’t have any legal right to the land they live on and thus, don’t have any right to connect to the municipal water utility. In regard to sanitation, providing sanitary facilities will help to decrease pollution of water resources, which are often contaminated by “hanging latrines” that discharge directly in ponds and streams and other unsafe sanitation practices.
Solving this crisis requires three main things: (1) empowering people (both politically and economically) in need of clean water to play a lead role in their solutions (2) increased philanthropic and aid capital invested in a way that brings system change and (3) policy changes that allow for better management of water resources and provide equity for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
It’s important to remember that we have made progress. Despite increases in population, the overall percentage of people with clean water has increased. One and a half billion people have gained access to improved water resources in the last 20 years.