Link between climate change and health

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Food and Water Security

Climate change affects health through food and water security. Food security can be directly affected by climate change as extreme weather events become more intense resulting in more damage to crops and poorer crop yields (Gregory et al., 2005). Changes in epidemiology of crop and livestock diseases are associated with climate change and will also result in food shortage (McMichael et al., 2007). With decreased food availability there will be more malnutrition and other related problems, such as child and maternal mortality (Costello et al., 2009). Reduced food availability will also result in increased food prices and it is likely to exacerbate the current food crisis (Gregory et al., 2005). Climate change will not affect everyone equally, populations already with poor access to food will be the worst affected by future food problems (Godfray et al., 2010). Water security is also vital to health. Poor water security will mean increased incidence of diseases resulting from drinking contaminated water, such as diarrhoeal diseases (Costello et al., 2009). Increased intensity of extreme weather events are liable to contaminate water sources and rising sea levels mean that more areas are prone to salination, affecting food and water security (McMichael et al., 2007).

Response to Climate change

Climate change has been modelled to have devastating effects not only on the environment but also on health. Even modest estimates show the evidence for action is undisputable (Xun et al., 2010). This is a global problem and therefore requires efforts from the global community. Despite not being the major contributors to climate change, developing countries are the most vulnerable to the consequences (Costello et al., 2009). There are numerous aspects that require consideration when tackling climate change (Costello et al., 2009). These include prevention, mitigation and adaptation. Carbon dioxide levels are already at an all time high and set to rise exponentially. Although prevention and mitigation needs to occur worldwide, it is developed countries that should take the lead against climate change. The cost of implementing mitigation is offset by the costs of health benefits (Haines et al., 2009). Mitigation can include alternative energy that is cleaner, readily available and easily accessible. Also agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emission; by reducing meat consumption it may be possible to reduced gas emissions from this sector (McMichael et al., 2007). Adaptation can be seen in developing countries where they have already had significant amounts of flooding and drought. For example in Bangladesh they have adapted to floods by changing the types of crops they grow, building houses on stilts and converting salinated agricultural land for shrimp farming (Anwar, 1999). On top of these actions it is important to prepare for the consequences of climate change. This can be achieved through warning systems for extreme weather events. Some already exist, such as in developing countries like Bangladesh which has seen a reduction in flood casualties (Paul & Routray, 2009). There is also a need for further research to identify the impact of mitigation and adaptation on health and climate change.


Anwar, Ali. (1999) Climate change impacts and adaptation assessment in Bangladesh. Climate Research, 12.

Costello, A., Abbas, M., Allen, A., Ball, S., Bell, S., Bellamy, R., Friel, S., Groce, N., Johnson, A., Kett, M., Lee, M., Levy, C., Maslin, M., McCoy, D., McGuire, B., Montgomery, H., Napier, D., Pagel, C., Patel, J., de Oliveira, J. A., Redclift, N., Rees, H., Rogger, D., Scott, J., Stephenson, J., Twigg, J., Wolff, J. & Patterson, C. (2009) Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet, 373 (9676), 1693-1733.

Godfray, H. C., Beddington, J. R., Crute, I. R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J. F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S. M. & Toulmin, C. (2010) Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science (New York, N.Y.), 327 (5967), 812-818.

Gregory, P. J., Ingram, J. S. & Brklacich, M. (2005) Climate change and food security. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.Series B, Biological Sciences, 360 (1463), 2139-2148.

Haines, A., McMichael, A. J., Smith, K. R., Roberts, I., Woodcock, J., Markandya, A., Armstrong, B. G., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Dangour, A. D., Davies, M., Bruce, N., Tonne, C., Barrett, M. & Wilkinson, P. (2009) Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: overview and implications for policy makers. Lancet, 374 (9707), 2104-2114.

McMichael, A. J., Powles, J. W., Butler, C. D. & Uauy, R. (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. Lancet, 370 (9594), 1253-1263.

Paul, S. K. & Routray, J. K. (2009) Flood proneness and coping strategies: the experiences of two villages in Bangladesh. Disasters.

Xun, W. W., Khan, A. E., Michael, E. & Vineis, P. (2010) Climate change epidemiology: methodological challenges. International Journal of Public Health, 55 (2), 85-96.

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