January 18, 2021

no country is immune from the health damage of climate change


No country is safe, no matter how rich it is. Everyone suffers the damage to health from the climate crisis, either due to excess heat, cold waves or the spread of diseases caused by the alteration of the climate caused by human activities, as evidenced by the fifth report Countdown of the magazine The Lancet published this Wednesday.

The warning is based on a review of 120 researchers and offers almost overwhelming global data: deaths from heat in older people have increased by 54% since 2000. 296,000 people died from these causes in 2018. Dengue cases have grown by fifteen%. Also those of malaria and those caused by bacteria vibrio like cholera in some parts of the world.

All these pathogens now find better conditions to spread. The surface of the Earth that supports excessive drought has doubled. Torrential rains, hurricanes and large fires have forced countries to put in place specific devices to cushion their impact on health. And the more resources, the better devices. Poor countries suffer five times more losses than rich countries from extreme weather events.

“Climate change threatens global health more and more and will overload health systems that are not prepared,” concludes the report, which reviews more than 40 indicators in hundreds of countries of all income types. Beyond the planetary figures, Spain – within the group of the richest – also supports its part. Especially in the form of extreme temperatures and new diseases, and it is not spared the recurring episodes of drought and torrential rainfall that cause floods.

Spain: mosquitoes and high temperatures

In the last five years, an average of 1,790 people have died in Spain from excess heat each summer, according to data from the Carlos III Health Institute. In 2020 there were 1,880 between the months of June to September. Last year it was 2,103. Three quarters of excess mortality from this cause occurs in people over 74 years of age. Excessive heat derived from global warming has already settled in Spain: heat waves last three times as long as at the end of the 20th century. The ISCIII explains that the “culture of heat” that has been developed to alleviate the most damaging effects of this increase in temperatures has reduced mortality in recent decades. In 2003 the figure had exceeded 5,300 deaths.

“The conditions created by climate change are increasingly conducive to the transmission of infectious diseases.” This is how the work of these scientists from more than 30 institutions explains how the risk to people and the distribution of diseases transmitted by insects, food and water is increasing. The document mentions various vectors, but among the most prominent is the mosquito Aedes albopictus, the tiger mosquito. Just the species that more and better is invading Spain.

This insect has doubled its presence in five years in the territory. It has gone from having some 360 ​​municipalities colonized in 2013 to expanding by 728 thanks to the new climatic conditions derived from global warming. This year, the Mosquito Alert project has doubled the detections of this invasive species: it has notified 1,789 identifications compared to 889 in 2019. Spanish administrations spend millions of euros to try to contain its expansion. Its bite is capable of inoculating the dengue, Zika or chikungunya pathogens.

So, broadly speaking, the new Spanish climate has become 46% more suitable for the transmission of dengue than in the middle of the 20th century. In 2018 and 2019, six cases of autochthonous transmission of the disease were recorded in the Region of Murcia, Catalonia and Madrid. The percentage of the Spanish coastline suitable for infections by the vibrio bacteria has increased from 55% in 1982 to 59% in 2015-19, he explains The Lancet.

“Threats to human health are multiplying and intensifying due to climate change, and unless we change course, our healthcare systems are at risk of being overwhelmed in the future,” said Ian Hamilton, the study leader.

A terrible economic investment

What this analysis comes to say is that almost everything has gotten worse since these reviews began five years ago, when the Paris Agreement against climate change was signed in 2015. “We describe an increasingly warmer world that affects the human health directly and indirectly “.

And not to be limited to the sanitary (or environmental) area, The Lancet exposes various impacts that damage to health entails in the economies of the countries. “The high cost in lives and suffering is associated with effects on economic results,” he warns. 302 billion hours of work capacity disappeared in 2019 for these reasons.

The constant increase in global temperatures (without going any further this Wednesday it has been known that 2020 will surely be one of the three warmest years on record) harms the agricultural sector and thus the food security of people. The rising heat coupled with increased extreme episodes of rain or hail have caused productivity of the main crops to decline. Wheat and corn, for example, mature earlier in Spain. Too early, in fact, which is why these plants grow for less time than the average between 1980 and 2010.

If the burden of mortality due to excess heat in the world were monetized, the calculation would go from being 0.23% of world gross domestic product in 2000 to 0.37% in 2018. The worst unemployed are the European states , whose costs for this impact on the health of its citizens were equivalent to the average income of 11 million Europeans and 1.2% of continental GDP. Climate change has turned out to be a terrible investment.

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