Climate change adding to hunger, illnesses worldwide

December 12th, 2008 - 12:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Poznan (Poland), Dec 12 (IANS) The Dec 1-12 climate change summit is entering its final day without any sign of substantial progress, but climate change effects have progressed dramatically worldwide, adding to hunger and illnesses worldwide, say international experts.The 2008 drought in western Australia that contributed in a big way to the food crisis earlier this year is the first major impact of climate change, says Martin Parry, professor at the Imperial College in London and former co-chair of a working group at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Over 3,000 negotiators from 186 countries are going away from the Poznan summit without any substantial progress towards fighting climate change, despite exhortations by over 5,000 NGO representatives and from scientists such as Parry.

“The 2008 food crisis is the largest impact of climate change so far,” Parry said on the sidelines of the summit. “It was caused partly by the poorly-thought-through switch to biofuels as a way of combating climate change, and partly by the drought in western Australia, which local scientists have identified as having been caused by climate change.”

The result, Parry said, was that in 2008 40 million people had been added to the list of those “at risk of hunger”, taking the total to 963 million, or one-sixth of the world’s population.

According to Parry, three recent studies had found a strong positive correlation between climate change and hunger. “The picture is not good,” he said.

The IPCC had predicted in its seminal 2007 report that lowered farm output, more frequent and more severe droughts, floods and storms and a rise in sea level would be the major impacts of climate change, with developing countries bearing the brunt.

“Climate change comes with a multiplier effect on top of other problems that affect the poorest the most,” Parry said. “Most of the impact of climate change will stem from reduced water supply.”

He also predicted a potential “20-50 percent reduction in food production in Africa” due to climate change.

Apart from increasing the number of people at risk of hunger, climate change is raising the number of people who fall ill, Maria Neira, director of the Public Health and Environment Department of the World Health Organisation (WHO), pointed out, again on the sidelines of the Poznan summit.

“Safe water, food, clean air, all are at risk from climate change,” Neira pointed out.

What are the specific effects? Neira said: “To a large extent, public health depends on safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter, and good social conditions. A changing climate is likely to affect all of these conditions.”

She said: “The health effects of a rapidly changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative, particularly in the poorest communities, which have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions.” Some of the health effects include:

* Increasing frequencies of heat waves: recent analyses show that human-induced climate change significantly increased the likelihood of the European summer heat wave of 2003.

* More variable rainfall patterns are likely to compromise the supply of freshwater, increasing risks of water-borne diseases.

* Rising temperatures and variable rainfall are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions, increasing risks of malnutrition.

* Rising sea levels increase the risk of coastal flooding, and may necessitate population displacement. More than half the world’s population now lives within 60 km of the sea. Some of the most vulnerable regions are the Nile delta in Egypt, the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, and many small islands, such as the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.

* Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases such as malaria and chikunguniya, and to alter their geographic range, potentially bringing them to regions which lack either population immunity or a strong public health infrastructure.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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