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A healthy climate for healthy people

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Climate change is a medical emergency (The Lancet) whose impact is alarming and for decades now, the African continent has been disturbed by its impacts.The issue of health challenges in Africa, and more importantly Nigeria, has been made worse by climate change.

Nigeria, as both the most populous country and major exporter of oil in Africa, faces the challenges of balancing global energy demands and its domestic economic stability with the need to address climate change impacts and other environmental considerations. However, we must understand and admit that a healthy climate will definitely produce healthy people. WHO’s (Climate change and Health expert) D.H. Campbell-Lendrum affirms in the Climate Tracker climate Change & Health YouTube Webinar, that “the health of people are the lives of people.”

Evidences from recent climate-sensitive health issues in our nation such as the recent flooding in Imo and Benue states, the food insecurity issue in the north, the disturbances in the environment brought about by climate change on the fast spreading of Lassa fever into many Nigerian states as the vector, a rodent (multimammate rat) thrive on contaminated water, food and are highly adaptable (501 cases and 104 deaths as of 9th of June, according to WHO) prove the statement above to be true.

Climate change consequences such as extreme weather, floods, and droughts invariably have a direct impact on our health; but its indirect impacts such as food insecurity, population migration and air pollution are of equal consequential considerations.

Air pollution is one of the most deadly things brought about by the use of inefficient, polluting forms of energy (burning of fossil fuels by industries) and inefficient transport system. It is one of the largest global health risks, resulting in the loss of about six-and-half million lives yearly, with 36 per cent of deaths from lung cancer, 34 per cent from stroke and 27 per cent from heart diseases. The level of atmospheric CO2 is now close to 370 ppm and rising; a level dangerous to human lives.

Air pollution exists in its various forms such as the outdoor air pollution (OAP), short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) and the household air pollution (HAP). In Nigeria, it is saddening that HAP accounts for about 258,000 deaths as well as 57 per cent of an estimated 130,900 child death. This is due to acute lower respiratory infection. Death from generator smoke inhalation in Nigeria between 2008-2014 was no fewer than 10,000, with four Nigerian cities now on the list of the most polluted cities in the world. 94 per cent of Nigerian citizens are now exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines.

Actions must be taken to reduce the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere. The consequence of poor response is dire. The ozone layer will totally become depleted, thus making humans vulnerable to cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Flooding is a major climate change related event that has ravaged Nigeria in recent times. The flooding in Makurdi on August 27, 2017 as well as the September 21, 2017 flooding in Imo State displaced about 110,000 and 3,200 people respectively from their homes. Unfortunately, flooding creates conducive conditions for numerous diseases to breed. An increase in extreme flooding events is set to cause a further rise of vector-borne diseases like Malaria, as Nigeria stands as the country with the highest number of casualties worldwide. Flooding will also have indirect health effect on our food production, access to quality water, leading to deadly disease like the recent Cholera outbreak in Borno State and a potential population migration from regions affected by flooding.

Food insecurity is also one of the major issues caused by climate change. Climate change through higher temperature, land and water scarcity, and changing weather patterns negatively impacts agricultural production and causes breakdown in food systems.

Subsequently and sadly enough for Nigeria, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) puts 11million Nigerian children under age 5 as stunted, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, considerable efforts must be made to improve climate resilience in Nigeria, else, we could be at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Weather parameters that influence transmission rates of infectious diseases include temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report revealed further that climate change could contribute to the expanding risk areas for infectious diseases and as well increase burden of diarrhoea, thus putting more lives at risk.

It is now evidently clear, how our health and climate change are related, whether directly or indirectly. It is clear that because of climate change, the basic needs of people will be disrupted, hunger and famine will increase as a direct result of drought. Air pollution will also increase, leading to more ischaemic and respiratory problems.

Fighting climate change provides us the opportunity to protect human health, especially the poorest who are the most vulnerable to the hardest impacts of climate change.

Amro Aglan’s valid suggestion that “health care providers should create awareness among citizens about climate change and we all should live by examples” should become a collective vow.We must stop deceiving ourselves that we can continue to burn fossil fuel, degrade our lands, fell trees indiscriminately, without paying the price in form of worsening health, deaths and property loss. Climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress between 2030-2050 (WHO).

The Nigerian government should also provide all necessary support for research and development to help understand the health risk of climate change. The government should show strong leadership and political will to address climate change in Nigeria. Better policies and measures to address greenhouse gas emissions should be enacted as well as the full implementation of the National Policy on Environment & National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change for Nigeria (NASPA-CCN).

The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), an agency responsible for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources should be fully empowered to fulfil its mandate.

The Conference of Parties23 (COP23) in November, to be held in Bonn, Germany, is a time for nations, Nigeria inclusive to negotiate better climate change agreements that cuts across board, especially those that address health issues as a consequence of climate change.
Michael is an undergraduate student of Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State.


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