Health Impacts of Global Warming

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‘The Implications For Health In Global Warming’

This essay will discuss global warming and the degree to which it will negatively affect people’s health and well being. Negative global warming related health effects will vary greatly due to geographical location and socio-economic status. Generally developed countries will be far better placed to confront the health challenges of climate change, than the developing word that already experiences a lower average state of health and less developed infrastructure.

Global warming refers to the measurable increase of average global air temperatures over the century (1905 to 2005). The 2001 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C) concluded that since the mid nineteenth century, that there has been an increase in average global temperature of approximately 0.6 percent and that most of this increase occurred during the end of the twentieth century. Further to this the I.P.C.C. projected global temperature rises of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees celcius by the year 2100. The predominant theory explaining this rise in global average temperatures is human activity, particularly the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. The effect of climate change on human health will be varied according to geographical location and the vulnerability of the local population. Potential adverse health consequences include but are not limited to temperature related illness and death, extreme weather related health effects, air pollution health effects, water and food born diseases, vector and rodent born diseases, effects relating to food and water shortages and mental health implications.(Sunyer & Grimalt, 2006 & McMichael et al, 2003).

The European summer of 2003 was potentially the hottest in five hundred years. Average temperatures were 3.5 degrees celcius above average resulting in approximately 22 000 to 35 000 heat related deaths. Causal links have been established between global warming and the prevalence and severity of these kinds of extreme weather events. Geographical characteristics can exacerbate the effect of heat extremes. The large amount of asphalt for roads and roof tops found in most developed cities, can reach temperatures 30 to 40 degrees celcius higher than the surrounding air. This ‘heat island’ effect can raise the air temperature in cities to between 5 and 11 Celcius higher than surrounding country areas. This quite obviously has serious health implications for highly urbanised societies, particularly so for vulnerable populations groups such as the elderly, very young and infirm. (Patz et al, 2005).

Extreme weather events in addition to the above mentioned heat-wave include prolonged periods of drought and potential wild fires, increased extreme rainfall events and potentially more frequent and severe storm activity. The projected trend for the next century is for the number of hot and very hot days to increase and the number of cold or very cold days to decrease.

Drought through its impact upon food production can lead to famine, exacerbating pre-existing conditions of malnutrition. Further to this, prolonged periods of drought accompanied by political, economic and social instability, may lead to a collapse in food marketing and distribution systems. An example of this is the food emergency in Sudan during 1998. During a period of drought water may be used exclusively for consumption to the detriment of hygiene. This increases the potential for faecal contamination of food potentially leading to diarrhoeal diseases and water washed diseases such as trachoma and scabies. (Aalst, 2006, McMichael et al, 2003, & Diaz, 2006)

Increased rainfall events, including monsoonal activity and storms, have the potential to cause flooding, landslides, erode soil and put enormous strain on disaster relief agents. The associated health implications range from immediate death or injury, to medium and longer term consequences such as...
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