At present times climate change has become a health emergency. If global temperatures are not restricted well below 2°C (35.6°F), it can pose a major threat to the children’s health worldwide, thereby shaping the future of a whole generation, the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.
“Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen progressive decline in the numbers of deaths for all people and indeed for children,” Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown, told DW. “But what we’re worrying about is that all of these gains could go into reverse if we don’t urgently tackle the problem of climate change.”
Around 35 global institutions that compiled the research, including the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, clearly shows the relationship between climate change, environmental destruction, and health. The increase in temperature has resulted in hunger and malnutrition, an increase in the scale as well as the scope of infectious diseases, and also increased the frequency of extreme weather events. Air pollution has already become deadly to the human lungs and has effects similar to smoking tobacco.
Difficulty in Accessing the Food
Climate change affects a newborn from the very beginning of its life. Rising temperatures cause drought and flooding, which devastate crops, causing global yields to decline. It pushes up food prices leading to hunger and malnutrition and deprives people of their livelihoods, particularly in countries such as Burkina Faso that are heavily dependent on agriculture.
“Acute malnutrition in five-year-old children in Burkina Faso is over 10%,” Maurice Ye, a native to the country and advisor to the National Malaria Control Program in Madagascar, told DW. “This will increase if nothing is done to address the problem.”
In India, the reason for two-thirds of deaths in children under the age of five is malnutrition, the Lancet report states.
As staples like grains and rice face price hikes, consumers are motivated to buy processed foods that are cheaper and unhealthy, and that also leads to malnutrition other than hunger.
“That feeds into the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, which is that of overweight and obesity,” Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India and contributing author of the report, told DW.
Formation of an Ideal Breeding Ground for Mosquitoes
The increase in infectious diseases also poses a threat to the health of children under five. These days increase in temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, warming waters, and high levels of humidity cause the spread of bacteria that lead to diarrheal diseases like cholera and also create ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes that carry germs of malaria or dengue fever.
In 2017, malaria caused an estimated 435,000 deaths globally, and a child somewhere in the world dies every two minutes from the disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the WHO estimates, It is a matter of grave concern that in countries such as Burkina Faso, malaria caused over 28,000 deaths in 2018 alone.
These disease-carrying mosquitoes will reach new countries because of climate change, particularly those in southern European.
Around 50% of the global population is now at risk from dengue disease, the Lancet report says.
The researchers noted that even if children survive malnutrition and infectious diseases, the devastating air pollution will not spare them to suffer from a lung infection, asthma, and increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
The fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in outdoor air pollution already contributes to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide.
Irresistible Heat and Cold
The extreme weather events like wildfires and heatwaves could be equally damaging for the health of a child born today.
Since 2001, 152 out of 196 countries have experienced an increase in the population exposed to wildfires causing direct deaths and respiratory illness. Record-breaking high temperatures are also a concern for older adults over 65 years.
“Heat health impacts include heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and aggravation of already existing morbidities from cardiovascular illness and respiratory illness,” Prabhakaran said.
As per experts, Heat can also lead to dehydration in children and older people.
Although the world is warming, people with little or no access to energy are facing risk from cold equally. “It kills more people than the heat overall,” Costello said. “But a lot of that is due to social factors.”
Inequalities that are growing worldwide are placing more and more people in situations of vulnerability, he said.
Phasing Out Coal
Prabhakaran hopes health impacts will be enough evidence to move reluctant policymakers.
“What we need to do is bring health in the center of discourse, the health impacts of fossil fuel combustion can be a strong argument for phasing out coal,” she said.
According to all three experts shifting to a decarbonized world would be the first step to reduce the suffering of every child born today. The stricter policies, along with genuine political will, can make it technically feasible. Inaction could not be an option any longer.
“It’s set to get much, much worse unless we take immediate action,” Costello said.