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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Climate crisis is a health crisis, more so in Asia Pacific


From Maria Guevara

Climate change has a disastrous impact on health.

As an international medical humanitarian organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is already seeing the impact on the people we treat in over 70 countries around the world.

This year, powerful Cyclone Mocha hit Myanmar and Bangladesh and destroyed not only communities but also refugee camps.

In years past, we have seen strong typhoons such as Haiyan in 2013, which laid waste to central Philippines and caused widespread flooding in Indonesia, which submerged homes and destroyed properties.

But it is not just cyclones or super typhoons. July 2023 was recorded as the planet’s hottest month in 174 years, resulting in Canadian wildfires, major heatwaves in France, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy, and marine heatwaves along coastlines from Florida to Australia.

In short, these weather events are happening all over the globe with greater frequency and impact.

While these are the most obvious, climate change has another impact on health, particularly on disease.

MSF is responding to high levels of vector-borne, food-borne and water-borne diseases in our projects. This is worrying as these are projected to increase as the climate crisis accelerates.

It is predicted that there will be 15 million more cases of malaria yearly, with 30,000 deaths linked to it.

One billion more people are expected to be exposed to dengue, not only in the Asia Pacific region, where it is much more prevalent, but across the world.

European Union officials recently warned that there is a growing risk of mosquito-borne viral diseases such as dengue and chikungunya in Europe due to climate change.

We have seen cholera outbreaks in at least 30 countries. While this is due to multiple factors, climate change is most definitely one of them.

Climate change is also linked to food insecurity and malnutrition. With extreme weather events such as heat waves and increased rainfall, come droughts and floods.

These impact farming and fishing communities, affecting everything, from the yield of crops grown to the animals that till the soil and to the number of fish caught in nets.

It does not end there. Climate change also affects the spread of non-communicable diseases; forced displacement and migration; and the emergence of conflicts, among others.

And all of these are expected to intensify over time – unless we take urgent action.

Humanitarian organisations like MSF are already seeing the impact when treating patients in the most vulnerable communities. But we can only do so much.

We are seeing huge needs everywhere we go, from the Asia Pacific to the Middle East, and the African nations.

Countries with limited resources are enduring the worst of the devastation brought by the climate crisis.

Our Rohingya patients in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – who have endured decades of persecution and are already burdened by being contained in the world’s largest refugee camps – are repeatedly threatened by flooding and cyclones that come their way.

Our patients in the island nation of Kiribati face climate and environmental changes that threaten their livelihoods and exacerbate their disease risks.

We have been sounding the alarm. We see these huge needs brought about by the climate crisis, and we fear that these needs are outstripping our capacity to respond.

We need the countries most responsible for this global warming of 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels to help those who are most affected, to take responsibility, and to provide financial and technical support to those most vulnerable.

Governments of the most affected countries, including in the Asia Pacific, must not only compel the top polluters to help them mitigate and manage the impact of climate change, but also put in place policies and affirmative climate actions to address and reverse the impact of these issues.

Already we are seeing commitments from world leaders.

At their recent meeting, G20 nations have committed to a greener and more climate-resilient health system.

Asean, which has five of the world’s 20 most at-risk countries located in the region, has announced an ambitious strategy to work towards carbon neutrality.

The COP28 agenda in November has an increased focus on health, relief and disaster response.

This is an important and critically urgent moment. These commitments are ambitious, but member states of these regional blocs must see them through and take real action.

Today, we are dangerously off track and urgent action needs to be taken now.

The climate crisis requires a whole-of-society approach. People and organisations must also understand that our own behaviour is part of the problem. We need to respond together, in solidarity with all, for the health of all. - FMT

Maria Guevara, an expert on global health, is the international medical secretary for Doctors Without Borders.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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