Climate change threatens our health, warns the UN’s WMO

FILE PHOTO: People wearing sun protection gear amid a heatwave walk on a street in Beijing, China July 1, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

The United Nations warned that the surge in weather-related disasters and extreme heatwaves, driven by climate change, presents a significant risk to public health. The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) highlighted in the 2023 State of Climate Services report the necessity for improved warning systems to minimize the adverse impacts. WMO underlines the insufficient integration of climate data in healthcare planning, stating that climate change could potentially reverse decades of progress in health and well-being, particularly impacting the most vulnerable communities.

The report underscores the need for climate information to assist the healthcare sector in addressing extreme weather events, poor air quality, shifts in infectious diseases, and food and water insecurities.

Studies show that extreme heat causes the highest mortality among all extreme weather events. However, health decision-makers in only half of the affected countries have access to heat alert services. Approximately 489,000 heat-related deaths per year occurred between 2000 and 2019, according to the report.

The lack of integration between meteorological data and health surveillance needs to be addressed as soon as possible, as countries with limited early warning systems suffer eight times more catastrophe-related deaths than those with extensive coverage. The report predicts a rise in medium or large-scale disasters to 560 per year by 2030 and emphasizes the crucial role of early warning systems in managing extreme heat, monitoring pollen, and tracking diseases sensitive to climate change.

The report also accentuates the intersection of the climate crisis and public health, linking severe and erratic weather patterns to disease outbreaks and an upsurge in non-communicable diseases. The NGOs that helped WHO in creating the report are advocating for increased investment in hydrometeorology to safeguard health outcomes.

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