New Delhi – With climate change emerging as the single biggest threat facing humanity and nearly 13 million lives lost every year due to avoidable environmental causes, the World Health Organization is calling for prioritizing equitable health and accelerating steps to protect ecological systems and health to build well-being societies.
“Climate change is putting the health, well-being, and sustainable development of billions of people across the Region and the world at risk. It imperils decades of progress in reducing disease-related morbidity and mortality. We must act now to keep humans and our planet healthy,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
Climate change is expected to cause an additional 250 000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050. WHO is urging governments and people to take measures to protect ‘Our planet, our health,’ the theme of World Health Day 2022.
The WHO South-East Asia Region, home to more than 2 billion people is highly vulnerable to climate change and has the highest estimated number of deaths due to climate change.
Intense rainfall, frequent floods, forest fires and droughts triggered by climate change are already impacting health and livelihood and causing huge sufferings, mental health issues, deaths and displacement, globally and in the Region.
Rising temperatures are also leading to outbreak of infectious disease, heat strokes, trauma and even death from extreme heat. Crop failure linked to climate change is driving malnutrition and undernutrition.
The same pollutants poisoning our air are also impacting our health. Over 90 percent of people globally breathe polluted air resulting in 7 million deaths every year including 2.4 million deaths in the SE Asia Region.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inequitable and unsustainable nature of existing political, social, and commercial decisions.
“We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to drive transformative, lasting change. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that if decision-making is transparent, evidence-based, and inclusive, people will support bold and far-reaching policies that protect their health, families and livelihoods,” said the Regional Director.
WHO is calling on countries to prioritize equitable health now and for future generations-including long-term investments, well-being budgets, social protection, and legal and fiscal strategies to allow for societies to flourish and fulfill everyone’s right to health and development while protecting our planet. The priority measures include –
First, protect and preserve source of human health: nature. Improve air quality, support afforestation and sustainable farming, and strengthen food systems.
Second, invest in essential services from water and sanitation to clean energy in health care facilities. In line with the 2017 Malé declaration, build climate-resilient health facilities which promote environmentally sustainable practices.
Third, ensure quick and healthy energy transformation. While countries in the Region have made commendable progress towards renewable energy, increased action is needed, accompanied by rigorous enforcement of air quality standards
Fourth, promote healthy and sustainable food systems. Disease caused by lack of access to food or consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed food and beverages is a major contributor of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
Fifth, build healthy and livable sustainable cities with green and healthy spaces to encourage physical activity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and road traffic injuries.
“We are at a pivotal moment. The decisions and actions we take now can either escalate damage to the ecological systems that sustain human health and livelihoods, or they can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. Together we must confront the climate crisis, protect health for all and ensure a fairer, healthier, and greener future for generations to come,” said the Regional Director.