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Disaster Risk Reduction is Vital to Avoiding Another Global Health Crisis

Directly and indirectly, climate change affects health – rising greenhouse gas emissions increase the frequency of extreme heat events and natural disasters which result in over 60,000 deaths every year, primarily in developing countries.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, rainfalls, fires and floods – resulting in deaths, injuries, displacement and the destruction of homes and health facilities. Local health systems are often ill-equipped to handle the influx of patients that result from such events, and quickly become overburdened and face medicine and equipment shortages.

Natural disasters also come with related biological hazards. Climatic conditions are linked to water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects and other animals. For example, heavy rainfalls and flooding are often linked to increased rates of malaria transmission, as floods provide new breeding ground for mosquitoes. Malaria kills over 400,000 people every year, mainly children under the age of five, however the recent approval of the Mosquirix vaccine offers some optimism for reduced malaria-related deaths.

Dengue, another mosquito-borne disease is also highly responsive to climate conditions. Found in many tropical regions, almost half of the world’s population (about 4 billion people), live in areas with a risk of dengue and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to this virus.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone. The direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between USD $2-4 billion per year by 2030.

Collaborative efforts to combat climate change and build resilient health systems are imperative to reducing the risks and mitigating the impacts of natural disasters.

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