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By Caty Arévalo
Close your eyes and think about the devastating effects of climate change. Surely more images of polar bears perishing or waterfalls without water come to mind than dengue patients in Spain and malnourished children, but they are also part of the package of what we do not want to happen.
Food, water, clean air and shelter: the four things necessary for good health are threatened by climate change, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Global warming is not only an environmental issue, it is also, among others, "a matter of public health" that is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has demanded this week to be part of the international negotiations to agree an international treaty on emission reduction.
“The WHO has been following the issue for years, but the evidence that climate change is already affecting health very negatively, and, above all, the report that tells us that air pollution causes more than seven million deaths a year are what which leads us to want to influence the decisions made on the subject ”, explains the director of Public Health and Environment of the WHO, María Neira, in an interview with Efe.
Neira was one of the main voices this week at the first world conference on "Climate Change and Health" that brought together leading scientists, doctors, political representatives, diplomats and businessmen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
"The evidence that climate change threatens human health is overwhelming, but there are solutions and we need to act now to put them in place", stressed the director of the WHO, Margaret Chan at the inauguration. In the same vein, the rest of senior representatives spoke, from the secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, Christiana Figueres, to Prince Charles of England, by videoconference: the international agreement on climate change being pursued is also "an agreement public health ".
But why does the scientific community argue that climate change is the greatest threat to health today? Among other things because the conditions it will bring will alter the breeding season and the geographical distribution of mosquitoes, ticks and snails, the major distributors of diseases.
Neira acknowledges that the WHO is especially concerned about the expansion of malaria, which kills one million people a year, most of them children, and of dengue, as the latest IPCC report warns, whose forecasts speak of billions of people infected by dengue in 2080 due to climate change.
A study recently published by the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom, indicates that dengue could spread through southern Europe due to warming and affirms that the south and the Spanish Mediterranean coast will be the area of “greatest risk”.
"We also know that there will be an impact on agricultural production that can increase malnutrition," adds Neira.
Rising temperatures and a lack of water would raise the number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa alone by 40% in 2050, according to another study published this week by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
The professor of Environmental Engineering and Atmospheric Sciences at Harvard University, Daniel Jacob, also maintains that air pollution will worsen due to climate change, especially tropospheric ozone, which tends to skyrocket with high temperatures, as occurred in 2003 during the wave of heat that Europe suffered. The increase in fires would also worsen the quality of the almost six liters of air that we breathe in and out per minute; and with it a whole series of diseases such as dermatitis, conjunctivitis, rhinitis, and asthma. Cancer, depression
WHO is also concerned about the expected increase in cases of skin cancer, heat stroke and depression in survivors of natural disasters, which according to forecasts could increase in frequency and intensity.
For this reason, the health community, Neira concludes, wants its voice to be heard in decision-making on climate change.
When it comes to fighting it, saving millions of lives a year is at stake.
EFE - Green