Climate and health: A healthy climate for healthy people

A flooded community in Makurdi, Benue State
By Olufemi Michael

Climate change is a medical emergency (The Lancet) whose impact on health is alarming and for decades now, the African continent has been disturbed by its impacts, one in which Nigeria as a nation has had her share. The issue of health challenges in Africa, and more importantly Nigeria, has been made worse by climate change on a personal level than it used to be and critical stakeholders have not realised this.

Nigeria, as both the most populous country and major exporter of oil in Africa, faces the challenges of balancing global energy demands and its domestic economic stability with the need to address climate change impacts and other environmental considerations. However, we must understand and admit it that a healthy climate will definitely produce healthy people. WHO’s (Climate change and Health expert) D.H. Campbell-Lendrum affirms in the Climate Tracker climate Change & Health YouTube Webinar, that “the health of people are the lives of people”.

Evidences from recent climate-sensitive health issues in our nation such as the recent flooding in Imo and Benue State, the food insecurity issue in the north, the disturbances in the environment brought about by climate change on the fast spreading of Lassa fever into many Nigerian states as the vector, a rodent (multimammate rat) thrive on contaminated water, food and are highly adaptable (501 cases and 104 deaths as of 9th of June, according to WHO) proves the statement above to be true.

Climate change impacts such as extreme weather, floods, and droughts invariably have a direct impact on our health; but its indirect impacts such as food insecurity, population migration and air pollution are of equal consequential considerations.

What are some of the drivers of climate change and how does it affect our health?

Air pollution is one of the most deadly climate change factor brought about by the use of inefficient, polluting forms of energy (burning of fossil fuels by industries) and inefficient transport system. It is one of the largest global health risks, resulting in the loss of about six-and- half million lives yearly, with 36% of deaths from lung cancer, 34% from stroke and 27% from heart diseases. The level of atmospheric CO2 is now close to 370 ppm and rising; a level dangerous to human lives.

Air pollution exists in its various forms such as the outdoor air pollution (OAP), short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) and the household air pollution (HAP). In Nigeria, it is saddening that HAP accounts for about 258,000 deaths as well as 57% of an estimated 130,900 child death. This is due to acute lower respiratory infection. Death from generator smoke inhalation in Nigeria between 2008-2014 is no fewer than 10,000, with four Nigerian cities now on the list of the most polluted cities in the world. 94% of Nigerian citizens are now exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines.

Actions must be taken to reduce the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere. The consequence of absent response is dire. The ozone layer will totally become depleted, thus making humans vulnerable to cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The result of the high emissions is that heat-related death will increase and our friends will begin to die, hence the need for action.

Flooding is a major climate change related event that has ravaged Nigeria in recent times. The flooding in Makurdi on August 27th, 2017 as well as the September 21st, 2017 flooding in Imo State has displaced about 110,000 and 3,200 people from their homes. Unfortunately, floods create conducive conditions for numerous diseases to breed than we expect. An increase in extreme flooding events is set to cause a further rise of vector-borne diseases like Malaria, as Nigeria stands as the country with the highest number of casualties worldwide. Flooding will also have an indirect health effect on our food production, access to quality water provision, leading to deadly disease like the recent Cholera outbreak in Borno State and a potential population migration for regions affected with flooding, thus creating a burden on the newly populated region.

Food insecurity is also one of the major health issues caused by climate change (C.Oxfam). Climate change through higher temperature, land and water scarcity, and changing weather patterns negatively impacts agricultural production and causes breakdown in food systems. This correspondingly affects those most vulnerable to hunger and can lead to food insecurity.

Subsequently and sadly enough for Nigeria, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) puts 11million Nigerian children under age 5 as stunted, the highest in sub-Saharan African, therefore considerable efforts must be made to improve climate resilience in Nigeria, else, we could be at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Weather parameters that influence transmission rates of infectious diseases include temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report revealed further that climate change could contribute to the expanding risk areas for infectious diseases and as well increase burden of diarrhoea, thus putting more lives at risk. According to Rocklov. J et al 2015, over 400million people will be at risk of malaria by 2070, under both low and high emissions.

It is evidently clear, how our health and climate change are related, whether directly or indirectly. It is clear that because of climate change, the basic needs of people will be disrupted, hunger and famine will increase as a direct result of drought. Air pollution will also increase, leading to more ischaemic and respiratory problems.

It is so saddening the havoc climate change have caused in Nigeria, especially our health. Actions must be taken both at the local and national levels to address it.

Fighting climate change provides us the opportunity to protect human health, especially the poorest who are the most vulnerable to the hardest impacts of climate change effect. Nigeria as one of the most vulnerable is suffering serious health consequences from its effects because of our large poor population, poor health planning and weak policies to address climate-sensitive health issues. Hence, the need for everyone to take actions. Industries should limit their burning of fossil fuels and use less polluting energy sources such as the renewable energy, individuals should embrace active, efficient transport system such as cycling and walking, thus reducing the level of GHGs emissions in the atmosphere and making our health better for it.

Amro Aglan’s valid suggestion that “health care providers should create awareness among citizens about climate change and we all should leave by examples” should become a collective badge of interest. Quality health services and functional water should be provided for women and children in rural parts of the nation who are the most vulnerable to climate change health risks.

Now, Nigeria have massive opportunities to promote policies that protect the climate at the local level and even globally, thus ensuring global annual CO2 emission level drops from 5.2 to 1.6 tons per capita, so we all can stay below the 2oC upper global temperature limit.

We must stop deceiving ourselves that we can continue to burn fossil fuels, degrade our lands, fall trees indiscriminately, without paying the price on our health and environment in form of worsening health, deaths and property loss. Climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress between 2030-2050 [WHO].

Do we desire more deaths or a well-meaning life for ourselves? Statistics from several health agencies worldwide puts us straight. Therefore, we need more serious actions to combat climate change.

Nigeria’s response to climate change has not been too bad, as the record of the nation’s commitment to several global agreements shows, but the Nigerian government, policy makers, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), health practitioners and the citizens need to do more in making strong climate change health related policies, providing quality flood control efforts as well as swift response in the monitoring of disease outbreak and taking responsibilities for our own actions on our climate.

The Nigerian government should also provide all necessary supports for research and development to help understand the health risk of climate change. The government should show strong leadership and political will to address climate change in Nigeria. Better policies and measures to address greenhouse gas emissions should be enacted as well as the full implementation of the National Policy on Environment & National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change for Nigeria (NASPA-CCN).

The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), an agency responsible for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources should be fully empowered to fulfil her mandate which will benefit us all.

The Conference of Parties23 (COP23) in November, to be held in Bonn, Germany, is a time for nations, Nigeria inclusive to negotiate better climate change agreements that cuts across board, especially those that address health issues as a consequence of climate change, because we know that the health of people are the lives of people.

Olufemi Michael O.
An undergraduate student of The Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State Nigeria.
Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics.

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