News / Health

Climate Information Can Protect Public Health

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (file)Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (file)
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Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (file)
Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (file)
Lisa Schlein
Climate information and weather forecasts can help prevent or prepare ways to offset disease epidemics and improve health, according to a new U.N. report.  The World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization have published the first Atlas of Health and Climate.

The World Meteorological Organization says climate change is altering the magnitude, frequency and duration of extreme weather events.  As the world's climate continues to change, it warns hazards to human health are increasing.

WMO scientists note droughts, floods and cyclones affect the health of millions of people each year.  Climate variability and extreme conditions such as floods can trigger epidemics of diseases, such as diarrhea, malaria, dengue and meningitis-diseases, which cause death and suffering for millions of people.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says climate services have been under-utilized for public health.  He says the Atlas of Health and Climate shows stronger cooperation between the meteorological and health communities can affect the health of societies in a profound way.

"Let me give you an example which is more directly related to the work of WMO," said Jarraud. "Climate information about the risk of floods and cyclones, which is routinely prepared by national meteorological services, involve millions of peoples around the world."

Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan says her organization enthusiastically embraces collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization.   Much WHO work is focused in Africa, and Dr. Chan says climate predictions are having a beneficial impact on health in sub-Saharan Africa.  

For example, she says every year hot and dusty winds blow across the meningitis belt that covers 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  She says every year many children under age 15 die or are mentally damaged from this terrible disease.

"What we do now is in advance of the coming of the wind, because of this climate information it allows us to do early warnings," said Chan. "So, what do we do?  We pre-position and make sure that a vaccination campaign takes place before the coming of the wind so children are protected.  So, that is one specific example."  

The Atlas has numerous maps, tables and graphs that make the links between health and climate more explicit.  It notes in some locations the incidence of infectious diseases vary depending on weather and climate conditions.  It says stronger climate services in endemic countries can help predict the onset, intensity and duration of epidemics.

The Atlas presents many case studies, one of the most dramatic examples of how climate preparation can save lives occurred in Bangladesh.  In 1970, about half a million people lost their lives in cyclones that hit Bangladesh.  Thanks to improved early warning systems and preparedness, the cyclone death toll in 2007 was reduced to 3,000.

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