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WHO sounds warning on health effects of climate change

Putrajaya, Malaysia, 14 October 2010— The World Health Organization (WHO) today said countries in the Western Pacific Region are making progress in preparing for the effects of climate change, but that much work remained to be done.

WHO said the sharp rise in extreme weather conditions has made it vital for Member States in the Region to step up the pace of preparedness.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, warned that the shift in weather patterns will almost certainly introduce mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, to areas where mosquitoes previously could not survive.

"Floods and droughts will tend to increase infectious waterborne diseases. Temperature and rainfall changes affect food production, and as such they affect nutrition and food security," Dr Shin said. "And some of the islands of the Pacific face rising sea levels and the consequent loss of farm land, if not disappearance altogether."

Dr Shin was addressing the annual meeting of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The meeting reviewed progress made by countries in developing national action plans and strategies for health sector response to climate change.

Dr Shin urged countries and areas in the Region to further strengthen health systems to protect populations from the threats posed by changing weather patterns.

"Governments need to put human health at the core of their climate change policies,"
Dr Shin said. "Governments need to strengthen and reform current systems, with an emphasis on clean water, immunization, disease surveillance, mosquito control and disaster preparedness."

Floods and heat waves have caused major problems in countries in the Region in terms of lives lost, an upsurge in injuries and diseases, and the number of houses destroyed. In June 2010, torrential rains in south and central China left hundreds of people dead and forced the evacuation of millions more because of floods and landslides.

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Fact sheet

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

No country will be spared from the consequences of climate change. But those with high levels of poverty and malnutrition, weak health infrastructure and/or political unrest will be the least able to cope.

Climate change may already be a cause of the increase in the number of global deaths – now at more than 150 000 annually – from malaria, diarrhoea, malnutrition and injury from floods.

Because of global warming, malaria-carrying mosquitoes are now found in places where they were never seen before, including the mountains of Papua New Guinea.

Dengue: Rising temperatures and rainfalls affect the geographical distribution of dengue mosquitoes. In Japan, dengue mosquitoes are now found in the northern Honshu Island, although infection has not occurred yet.

The health of tens of millions of residents of some of Asia’s delta megacities, including Manila, could be threatened by river and coastal flooding. Land facing Manila Bay will be particularly at risk of severe flooding during the rainy season. Much of the land is already subsiding, and this, combined with higher sea levels, will mean that rain water will not be able to evacuate through the drainage system. Sanitation and health will be jeopardised.

Millions of people could face disease, poverty and hunger if arable lands become unworkable through changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, deforestation, and an increase in agricultural pests.

Climate change threatens to reverse progress in fighting diseases of poverty, and to widen the gaps in health terms between the richest and the poorest.

Pacific island countries are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

  • Many of the inhabited atolls are narrow and low lying, bordered by lagoons or the open ocean. They will be exposed to more frequent seasonal cyclones and rising sea levels, landslides and storm surges.
  • A scarcity of fresh and safe water will result in higher rates of diarrhoeal diseases, typhoid fever, malnutrition, skin diseases, food poisoning and other complications.
  • Water shortage is a serious problem in many small island states, many of whom depend heavily on rain as the source of their water. Rising sea levels have increased the salinity of groundwater, often the source of fresh water, and directly impacted the livelihood and health of people.

For media-related queries or interview requests, please contact:

Marilu Lingad
Philippine mobile: +63 908 891 4532
Malaysia mobile: 019 3792683

Peter Cordingley
Philippine mobile: +63 918 963 0224
Malaysia mobile: 019 3772897

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