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WHO Warns Climate Change Bad For Health

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Lisa Schlein

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan says she is disappointed a deal on climate change was not struck in Copenhagen.  But she says important steps were taken that, she believes, will ultimately result in an agreement to stop or retard climate change. 

She says the relationship between climate change and health is obvious.  For example, she says millions of people will suffer from either too much water or too little water under climate change.

Chan says extensive flooding may lead to loss of life from drowning and disease.  She says contaminated floodwaters can cause fatal illnesses, such as diarrhea and cholera. 

On the other hand, she says some areas will have too little water and prolonged drought will affect the kind of crops people normally grow.

"The prediction is that in the next 20 years to 30 years, if the situation continues to get worse, the productivity from the agricultural sector and from subsistence farming in Africa, the production would reduce by as much as 50 percent," she said.  "If there is any truth to that, can you imagine the impact on hunger, on acute and chronic malnutrition?" 

Scientists say the warming of the planet will be gradual, but that extreme weather events will increase in frequency and intensity. 
They say the effects of more storms, floods, droughts and heat waves will be abrupt and profound. 

The World Health Organization says the effects of so-called climate-sensitive diseases already are killing millions of people.  WHO reports more than three-and-a-half million people die every year from malnutrition-related causes.  It says diarrhea-related diseases kill nearly two million people and almost one million die from malaria.

WHO Chief Margaret Chan says such problems will be magnified under climate change. "With the changes in temperature – vectors - disease vectors like mosquitoes have been reported to cause malaria in places that had never reported malaria cases," she said.

Chan says climate change is a global phenomenon.  While no country will be exempt, she says its consequences will not be evenly distributed.  The WHO chief says poor countries that already are struggling with huge problems will be most affected. 

Chan says fragile health systems in the developing world will come under increased stress.  She says they will have great difficulty coping with the increased burden of disease and other health problems. 

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