Climate change is one of the most common topics discussed in the news. The weather and climate play a huge role in affecting our health, for example, a large flood can destroy people’s homes and lead to the increase in many water-borne diseases like cholera or an increase in temperature and humidity in an area could enhance the spread of some diseases, such as malaria.

Although some people may believe there are health benefits – fewer cold-related deaths in winter – the disadvantages definitely outweigh the advantages. There are predicted to be many heatwaves (though the weather this July doesn’t seem to agree!) and these can be deadly particularly to elderly and sick people. In the USA, heatwaves kill more people than all other natural disasters put together. Higher temperatures also increase the risk of food-borne diseases, above average temperatures in Europe contribute to around 30% more reported cases of Salmonella poisoning.

There is likely to be an increased number of droughts and floods, mainly in poorer countries, due to the increase in temperatures. Crop yields are predicted to fall by 50% by 2020 and variable precipitation, along with higher temperatures, will lead to a decrease in the production of staple foods, making more people malnourished. Climate change will also cause sea levels to rise and the seawater which flows onto the land due to loss of ice sheets will contaminate low-lying agricultural land.

In my view, the most serious problem is that the spread of infectious diseases, such as malaria, will increase to countries that at the moment are not at risk. Warmer weather is also likely to speed up the vector’s life cycles and provide more opportunities for breeding. Mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths than any other single organism. Due to mosquitoes spreading malaria, around 1 million people are killed a year from the disease. Malaria is only prevalent in areas where a particular species of mosquito lives. So if climate change changes the distribution of mosquitoes, the spread of malaria will also move to. This is a serious worry for the populations in the highlands of Kenya where scientists have found that for an increase in temperature by 1°C leads to at least a ten-fold increase in mosquito numbers. This leads to a prediction that somewhere between 220 million and 400 million more people will be at risk from malaria.

All in all, it is clear that climate change will have a great impact on our health in many different ways, affecting all countries around the world with diverse consequences.

Steph White

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