CLIMATE Change: The Indian heat wave deaths are just a start, The World needs to act

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 2030 and 2050, there will be additional 250,000 deaths a year resulting directly from effects of climatic change like heat stress, malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. Damage costs caused to health and health determining sectors such as agriculture, water and sanitation are also estimated will be $2-4billion per year by 2030.

A man in India cools himself down with water near a train station in the recent heat wave in India that killed over 2000 people.

The environmental consequences of climate change, both those already observed and those that are anticipated, such as sea-level rise, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, heat waves, more intense hurricanes and storms, and degraded air quality, will affect human health both directly and indirectly putting many of our lives at risk and creating a whole group of vulnerable people.

With all the climatic changes also comes the stress of health care, infrastructure and delivery systems. The more vulnerable the people, the more the need for health care and yet the climate impacts are happening faster than the infrastructure can cope.

Climate change also directly affects the social and environmental determinants of health for instance clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Addressing these effects of climate change on human health is especially challenging because both the surrounding environment and the decisions that people make influence health. It even becomes more difficult and complicated to make health policies for the future with the uncertain environmental changes and unpredictable human activities and yet sound research varying from biological susceptibility, socioeconomic status, environmental changes as well as the cultural acceptances must be used. A shortcut to this will only make human health prey to a lot of dangers affecting various sectors of society both domestically and globally.

For instance in Uganda, agriculture is the backbone and yet the warming earth poses numerous challenges. In some parts of the country, crops have dried up, animals are under stress from severe drought, and farmers are cultivating wetlands and river banks in search of arable land. Karamoja, a remote land in north-eastern Uganda, is experiencing food shortages because of drought. In 2011, a lengthy drought helped drive the country’s headline inflation rate to a record 30%.

With such occurrences it is absurd that individuals generally do not care about the future consequences of their actions. So even though policy makers are not doing enough to stall the on-coming climate change, they also have to contend with either the ignorance or the “I do not care attitude” of their populace.

It is indeed absurd that the Ugandan Government expenditure on weather, climate and climate related issues is on a downward spiral. Even though there was a rise in expenditure from Ug.shs.41.5billion to Ug.shs.71.8billion between the years 2008-09 and 2011-12, in the year 2013-2014, only Ug.shs.13billion was allocated to this sector and yet less of this money is used on climate change sensitization programs but rather to prepare aviation forecasts and documents for commercial air traffic. In fact in the future, those budget allocations are set to decline

This is the time for governments along with their policy makers to start creating awareness and invest more in stalling climate change and its effects. It is always prudent to take preventative measures other than curative ones. This awareness should target educating people and creating a sense of responsibility over their environment.

Governments should put in a lot of effort to develop better infrastructure, food production means and energy sources free of carbon emissions and also reduce greenhouse gasses to ensure improved health particularly reduction in air and water pollution.

Uganda as well as many other African countries are highly vulnerable to climate change. Their economies and the wellbeing of their people are tightly bound to climate. Human induced climate change in the coming decades has the potential to halt or reverse the continent’s development trajectory. This is likely to mean increased food insecurity, shifts in the spread of diseases like malaria, soil erosion and land degradation, flood damage to infrastructure and settlements and shifts in the productivity of agricultural and natural resources. The poor and vulnerable will feel these impacts the hardest.

Its implications on Uganda’s economy will for example cause a shift in the viability of coffee growing areas potentially wiping out US $265.8 million or 40% of export revenue. Climate change could lead to poverty, triggering migration as well as heightened competition over strategic water resources and regional insecurity.

Uganda therefore set up the Parliamentary Forum for Climate Change (PFCC) whose goal is to ensure effectiveness in policies and actions for harmonized and coordinated approaches towards climate change resilience and sustainable development. There has been delay in formulating the national policy but if implemented, the policy would represent a step forward in fighting climate change in the country. Certain adverse health effects can most certainly be avoided if decisions are made early enough.

Strong leadership is urgently needed within the development partners to strengthen weak institutions and to reduce the social vulnerability and inequity which has long been a target of development assistance.

Action to date falls well short of what is needed to climate-proof Uganda’s development, nevertheless, let’s hope positive action is underway, most notably through her response to the United Nation’s Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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