Poorest countries unprepared for health impacts of climate change

May 17th, 2009 - 5:53 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 17 (IANS) The world’s poorest nations are unprepared for the strain climate change will put on their public health systems, according to studies by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and its partners.
The findings came ahead of a major summit of health ministers from Commonwealth nations in Geneva that began Sunday. They show that in the most vulnerable countries very little has been done to assess or address the threats climate change poses to health, said Mike Shanahan, spokesman of the London-based IIED.

Saleemul Huq, senior fellow in IIED’s climate change group, said: “This in part reflects a failure of wealthy nations to meet promises to help the poorer nations adapt to climate change”.

The studies found that health systems in many of the least developed countries are already stretched to breaking point dealing with immediate concerns such as malaria and other infectious diseases.

There has been minimal research into how climate change will affect health and what can be done to reduce the threat, leaving hundreds of millions of people uninformed about the dangers.

A study in Zambia showed that floods and droughts can increase disease levels in some areas by as much as 400 percent. Dysentery appears to increase with drought, while pneumonia and malaria increase with rainfall.

“Zambia is vulnerable to droughts, floods, extreme heat and shifts in rainy season length,” said George Kasali of Energy and Environmental Concerns for Zambia, who carried out the study in the country.

“Almost all of these climate hazards will have a negative effect on health. Despite the increased frequency of these hazards in the last decade, Zambia has not yet developed any climate-informed policies for the health sector.”

“There is very little awareness of the potential impact of climate change on human health within health sectors in the least developed countries,” said Hannah Reid, a senior researcher in IIED’s climate change group.

“There have been very few assessments of how climate change will affect food security, access to water, flood risks and diseases such as malaria.”

Huq said rich countries must provide funds to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. “Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, rich countries promised back in 2001 to support poor countries in their efforts to adapt.

Since then 39 of the 49 least developed countries have assessed their adaptation needs. Many identified health issues that they will need to adapt to as climate change takes hold. What’s missing is the money that was promised to help them do this.”

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