By Kevin Tuerff, EnviroMedia president & co-founder
Did you know climate change may cause increased urinary tract and water-related infections? How about increased diarrheal disease, pneumonia, malnutrition and skin cancer? Did you know it may also cause increased human trafficking and prostitution? I’ll admit when I first read this, it seemed like a stretch. However, in poor countries, these predictions demonstrate the real-world connection between environment and public health.
South Africa’s climate adaptation plan works closely with not only the government’s environmental ministry, but also its ministry of health. At the UN climate talks (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, the government proudly displays the details of their plans for dealing with future impacts from climate change like ongoing droughts and more intense natural disasters.
Ah, now I get it. If a drought-stricken third-world country with an already inadequate water supply and treatment systems has even more problems, it will trigger an even greater number of waterborne diseases. And if crops don’t grow, farmers become more desperate. Food prices rise so much that people can’t afford to eat enough healthy foods.
Inability to provide for one’s family’s most basic needs undoubtedly creates anxiety and depression. These health problems create social problems, creating even more health problems. South Africa predicts it may face increased violence against women and children as well as increased human trafficking and recruitment into sex trade. Prostitution directly impacts rates of sexually transmitted disease like HIV and AIDS.
The facts from South Africa seem to bear this out: the South African Department of Health Study estimates that 29.4 percent of pregnant women (aged 15-49) were living with HIV in 2009.
South Africa’s plans to overcome these climate-related health impacts include: improved primary health care; promotion of disease prevention including breastfeeding, food safety and use of sunscreen; and increased access to contraception. By being prepared, and educating the public, governments will certainly help save lives.