A newly published report in the public health journal The Lancet raises the alarm for the growing risk that climate change will have on the health of millions worldwide, representing the latest and most serious of warnings by the scientific community to date. Noting the increase in the occurrence and severity of extreme weather events — such as heat waves, floods, and storms — coupled with how this affects crucial public health infrastructure, one can only imagine the potential disruption to providing health care. But how do heat waves, droughts and floods, as well as, infectious diseases prove to be one of the greatest health risks for millions worldwide?
The interconnected health risks associated with climate change have proven to impact individuals at rates far worse than before. With communities impacted at unprecedented rates we will see a greater number of deaths and related diseases affecting people. With longer lasting heat waves proving to be one of the most dangerous threats to human health as they not only kill thousands of people every year but can also directly lead to kidney and cardiovascular disease, as stated by The New York Times. An interesting number to point out is the number of people exposed to heat-related health risks. According to the report, this number has increased by about 157 million in 2017 compared to the year 2000.
The increasing intensity and duration of heat waves in the United States by mid-century will contribute to about 50-100 deaths per million people. Furthermore, the effects of droughts and floods will prove to be the most consequential as in addition to the millions of people needing help with rescuing and rebuilding, the vulnerability of the public health infrastructure and sewers will cause an even greater health risk. This is due to rainfall overwhelming the aging water and sewer systems, which lead to shortages in drinkable water and an increase in the exposure of gastrointestinal disease. For example, flooding of water and sewer systems in parts of the United States such as Florida and Texas will allow hospitable conditions for mosquitoes that transport viruses such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. This further proves the severity of climate change and the domino effects it will have on the well-being of humans. Diseases have proven that once they are contracted and a hospitable environment is in place they can claim human lives in the millions. Although advances in healthcare and the fact that we have a much stronger immune system compared to the average human of the 18th and 19th centuries because of vaccines, we are still vulnerable to diseases once believed to be cured forever. However, the risk of debilitating deadly infectious diseases reemerging has become greater than ever with climate change, as small changes in temperature and rainfall can prove to be determinant factors on where diseases are spread through bugs and water sources. As stated by The Lancet, habitats for dengue-spreading mosquitoes have expanded significantly and warmer temperatures might have helped transmit Zika in the United States. Tropical diseases are now able to survive in areas much higher in latitude than where they are traditionally found. Lastly, there has been an expansion of cholera bacteria to the Baltic coastline and malaria can be found at much higher latitudes in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In conclusion, what might not be seen a great risk to humanity at first, an increase of a few degrees in the global temperature leads to a domino effect that causes irreversible changes that result in catastrophic effects on humanity due to the risk they posed to our health.