Cli­mate change poses ‘health cri­sis’

Unchecked cli­mate change could mean mos­qui­toes car­ry­ing dis­ease, a rise in res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses and greater con­tam­i­na­tion of wa­ter sources. Do­minic Har­ris in­ves­ti­gates.

The Press - - News -

Dis­ease-car­ry­ing mos­qui­toes could be­come com­mon in the fu­ture as New Zealand faces a loom­ing health cri­sis caused by cli­mate change, a re­port warns.

Ill­nesses such as dengue fever could take hold in parts of the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly the North Is­land, in lit­tle over two decades if cli­mate change ac­cel­er­ates unchecked.

Sci­en­tists also pre­dict a pos­si­ble in­crease in res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases from more al­ler­gens in the air, greater ex­po­sure to can­cer-caus­ing UV ra­di­a­tion and a po­ten­tial rise in in­fec­tious dis­eases caused by a chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Heat waves, storms and floods will have an ever-greater im­pact on rates of dis­ease and death, and the re­port’s au­thor, the In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­men­tal Science and Re­search (ESR), warned the ef­fects on health from the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment will be­come a ‘‘ma­jor chal­lenge’’ un­less the coun­try is pre­pared for what is to come.

As­so­ci­ate Health Min­is­ter Julie Anne Gen­ter said the Gov­ern­ment must build up the ‘‘ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity’’ of the health sec­tor to deal with cli­mate change af­ter what she said was years of ne­glect by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

‘‘We need to make re­spond­ing to cli­mate change an ur­gent pri­or­ity . . . across the health sys­tem to iden­tify and pre­pare for the in­crease in risks.’’

ESR was asked by the Min­istry of Health to an­a­lyse ex­ist­ing sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture on cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal health risks over the next 50 to 100 years so plans can be put in place to mit­i­gate or adapt to them.

Cli­mate change is most likely to worsen ex­ist­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal health risks, in­clud­ing ex­po­sure to air ir­ri­tants and pol­lu­tants, ex­treme weather events, ex­po­sure to – or a lack of – UV ra­di­a­tion and the po­ten­tial for the emer­gence of in­sect-borne dis­eases.

The re­port sug­gested fu­ture gas emis­sions and how ready the Gov­ern­ment, pub­lic and health sec­tor are to adapt to cli­mate change will have a ma­jor im­pact on the ef­fect on health.

‘‘Adap­ta­tion op­tions need to re­main flex­i­ble and favour ‘nore­gret’ or ‘win-win’ strate­gies that yield ben­e­fits even in ab­sence of cli­mate change . . . There will be pos­i­tive health ben­e­fits for every­one if ap­pro­pri­ate mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion strate­gies are im­ple­mented sooner rather than later.’’

Health of­fi­cials are al­ready tak­ing mea­sures, in­clud­ing fund­ing district health board units to de­tect and en­sure ex­otic mos­qui­toes are not able to es­tab­lish in New Zealand, en­sur­ing air­craft com­ing into the coun­try are prop­erly dis­in­fected and re­view­ing emer­gency plans over na­tional health.

Gen­ter said the re­port sent a ‘‘very clear mes­sage’’ that swift ac­tion to lessen the im­pacts of cli­mate change is vi­tal if a health cri­sis is to be averted, but also that there is a need to adapt to changes that are al­ready in­evitable.

‘‘We need our health sys­tem to be bet­ter pre­pared to deal with in­creased tem­per­a­tures and more ex­treme weather events.’’

ESR will now ad­vise the Gov­ern­ment on what steps the health sec­tor can take to adapt to cli­mate change.

STUFF

Sci­en­tists pre­dict a pos­si­ble in­crease in res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases from more al­ler­gens in the air, greater ex­po­sure to can­cer­caus­ing UV ra­di­a­tion and a po­ten­tial rise in in­fec­tious dis­eases caused by a chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

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