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In honour of the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, the Earth Day Network has launched a global digital campaign, dubbed The Faces of Global Climate Change, which uses social media to highlight the impact of climate change on environmental wellness throughout the world, including photos documenting the far-reaching effects of climate change on human health and wellbeing.
Your wellness is influenced by many biological, socioeconomic, political and geographic factors, including changes in temperature, sea levels, and air quality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 150,000 deaths have been caused by global temperature increases, as well as the loss of 5.5 million disability-adjusted life years in 2000 alone. These rates are expected to double by 2020.
For example, the 2010 summer heat waves across Eastern Europe and Russia led to massive wild fires, the destruction of crops, and unfortunately, 55,000 deaths. As average temperatures continue to rise in the years ahead, these heat waves are expected to threaten millions across the world with heat stroke, and cardiac and respiratory complications. WHO notes that 39 new or re-emerging diseases have occurred since the 1960s due to global warming, partially due to the proliferation of mosquitoes that has been made possible as global temperatures rise. Mosquitoes put the wellbeing of millions at risk to malaria, dengue, West Nile encephalitis, and yellow fever.
Global warming has also affected the planet’s water supply. Every year, global sea levels rise by 0.07 inches, which means we are experiencing decreasing fresh water availability, increasing water temperatures and altering precipitation patterns. As it stands, over a billion people across the world are in need of safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. Therefore, global warming threatens the health of many, with more than half of the hospital beds in the developing world estimated to be occupied by people suffering from preventable diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation.
So what can be done? We need to strengthen public health preparedness, with measures such as building public health infrastructure, reinforcing contingency planning with advanced climate modelling and environmental public health tracking. More needs to be invested into research that explores the link between climate change and health, as this will allow us to better respond to emerging health threats. For the same reason, we need to invest more into training health professionals, developing and implementing government and private sector response plans, and building the communication networks so that we can quickly respond to health crises caused by climate related events.