Thursday, June 18, 2009

Public Health is a Security Issue

Often climate change is framed in terms of its impact on temperatures, sea levels, and ice caps; its impact on public health is often overlooked. A degradation of public health is a clear security risk. Yesterday, Paul Epstein, the Associate Director at the Center for Health and the Global Environment with Harvard’s Medical School and Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation spoke at the Wilson Center on the potentially dramatic public health effects of climate change.

Climate change will increase the reach of disease. For example, the melting glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro will expose a greater population to malaria-causing mosquitoes. Without previous exposure, they are extremely vulnerable to the disease. Droughts lead to unsanitary water storage which spreads dysentery and dengue fever. Hurricanes flood low-lying areas and destroy infrastructure, which can leave refugees living in unsanitary conditions.

Climate change exposes the delicate interconnections between health and the surrounding climate. By exposing this complex relationship, Epstein explained how factors that threaten state stability, refugees, migrations, and resource scarcity, have roots often times in a public health crisis.

One key area for cooperation between developed and developing nations is on adaptation to increased disease risks caused by climate change. Climate change will increase the risk of diseases like malaria, but economic development, and public health investments can counteract these risks. Climate adaptation funding can help in these areas. At the end of his talk, Epstein said that successful adaptation to climate change will require economic development.

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