Written by

February 11, 2021


Over the past few months and since the pandemic began, we have come to recognise the pivotal importance of global public health.

However, as the world comes to terms with overcoming the Covid-19 virus, there is another great threat to human health that is often side-lined.

What is it? Well, it’s sadly climate change. And it’s having a monumental impact on the health of people here at home and across the globe.

 

Climate change and flooding: The mental and physical effects

climate change
Flooding in Britain is affecting our mental health.

Climate change is sadly affecting both our physical and mental health. Climate change-induced flooding, for example, is having a monumental impact on communities here at home, as well as overseas.

A recent report by the Climate Coalition looks at the impact of climate change on health here in the UK. It has revealed that flooding is a key threat with around 1.8 million people in the UK living in areas at significant risk of flooding.

We all know about the devastating effect flooding can have on the places we call home and the surrounding environment. Homes submerged, cars swept away, cattle drowned. But flooding can also have an effect on our mental health.

In fact, 1 in 3 people have reported suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after having their house flooded in the UK.

In many developing countries however, the further effects on one’s physical health can be deadly.

This, in large part, is dependent on the countries’ social infrastructure. For example, in many poor countries, flooding can lead to sewage, food and water systems becoming comprised, leading to water and food contamination, and resulting in diarrheal diseases, cholera and E.coli among others.

Moreover, the water left behind from floods can attract arthropods which can lead to the spread of vector-borne pathogens such as mosquitos and ticks, which spread diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

Flooding is sadly a grave concern within some of the countries that Islamic Relief works.

For instance in 2019, due to flooding, Bangladesh experienced its deadliest outbreak of dengue fever with more than 101,000 cases and almost 180 deaths.

And then in 2020, Bangladesh saw the most prolonged monsoon flooding in decades, with one third of the country estimated to have been underwater in July. This resulted in nearly 5,000 people contracting diarrhoea.

 

Rising temperatures and rising pressures: The human impact

climate change
A mother and daughter collecting water in a drought-stricken Niger.

But it’s not just flooding that can bring health problems. Climate-induced drought and heatwaves are proving to be deadly both close to home and globally, in particular across Africa.

The Climate Coalition report highlights the effects of summer heatwaves here in the UK, estimating that over 12 million people in the UK are vulnerable to the health consequences of heatwaves.

Taking just 2018 as an example, the heat during the summer months brought 8,500 heat-related deaths.

However, globally the impact of heatwaves goes further, with periods of extreme heat increasing in their frequency, duration, and magnitude:

The impact of heatwaves and climate-induced drought in developing countries is severe: not only do they affect people’s livelihoods – with crops and livestock destroyed – they also result in food shortages and rises in the price of food. As a result of this, many poor people can become (more) malnourished and may even die.

In Niger for example, over 80% of the population live in rural areas and families are heavily dependent on agriculture. In fact, 40% of the country’s GDP comes from agriculture.

However, with a short rainy season and the increasing effects of climate change resulting in higher temperatures and irregular rainfall, life is becoming increasingly difficult, putting people’s very sustenance at risk.

In Niger, sadly 42% of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and 73% of children under the age of five are anaemic.

To help combat the effects of drought, Islamic Relief has been working in disaster risk reduction by providing vulnerable communities with flood and drought-resistant seeds to help people better protect their livelihoods.

 

Wildfire and gasses: Toxic pollution with deadly consequences

climate change
Wildfires are producing harmful gasses which are affecting our health.

Climate change and the rise in global temperatures not only increase the prevalence of drought but can also increase the likelihood of wildfires.

Smoke from wildfires contains harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide which lead to poor air quality and exasperate cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Air pollution has a damming impact on health as it exasperates health conditions such as asthma and allergies such as hay fever. Prolonged exposure can sadly also cause chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, strokes and lung cancer.

Here in the UK, air pollution has been declared as the “biggest environmental threat to health in the UK”. Every year, 28,000 to 36,000 people die as a result of prolonged exposure to air pollution.

Shockingly, more than a third of local authorities in the UK have areas where the level of PM2.5 – one of the most dangerous toxic particles – exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) parameters.

This is alarming because PM2. 5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) are dangerous because they can penetrate deeply into our lungs. This then irritates and corrodes the alveolar wall and damages our lung function.

With research showing that in 2017, every borough in London exceeded WHO limits; this is not something we should be taking lightly.

What’s more, when we look further afield globally we see how developing nations are disproportionality affected and are struggling to cope. Rather shockingly, death rates from air pollution in developing countries are 100 times greater than across much of Europe and North America.

In 2017 for example, 9% of all deaths were attributed to air pollution, with the highest records across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

This is because in many of these countries, outdoor air pollution is worsened by attempts to industrialise (to shift from low to middle-income countries). Meanwhile, indoor air pollution is increased by a reliance on solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, crop waste and dung. In fact, around three million people worldwide still rely on such fuels for cooking.

 

Taking action: Before it’s too late

climate change
Islamic Relief volunteers campaigning against climate change.

These are some terrifying numbers. What’s more, the reality is that if we don’t acknowledge climate change as a global health crisis, then it will only get worse.

This in turn will continue to put pressure on frontline services when disaster strikes.

Therefore, we need to acknowledge the human cost of the climate crisis and support affected communities.

Help communities in need by:

  • Sharing this blog to raise critical awareness
  • Donating towards our livelihood programmes to help communities battling the effects of climate change

Take action today and help save lives.

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