Heatwaves, extreme droughts in 2020 had worst impact on heath: Lancet

In 2020, adults over 65 were hit by 3.1 billion more days of heatwave exposure than in the 1986-2005 baseline average and the senior citizens from China, India, the US, Japan, and Indonesia were the most affected, a latest report from the Lancet said on Thursday.

Climate change is driving an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of drought events, threatening water security, sanitation, and food productivity, with 19 per cent of the global land surface in 2020 affected by extreme drought in any given month, the 2021 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Code Red for a Healthy Future, said.

Increasing the risk of wildfires and exposure to pollutants, this extreme drought over 19 per cent global land surface is worrying as this value had not exceeded 13 per cent between 1950 and 1990, it said, adding: “The five years with the most areas affected by extreme drought have all occurred since 2015. The Horn of Africa, a region impacted by recurrent extreme droughts and food insecurity, was one of the most affected areas in 2020.”

The report also talks about the potential for outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya and Zika increasing most rapidly in countries with a very high human development index, including European countries. Suitability for malaria infections is increasing in cooler highland areas of countries with a low human development index.

“Coasts around northern Europe and the US are becoming more conducive to bacteria, which produces gastroenteritis, severe wound infections and sepsis. In resource limited countries, the same dynamic is putting decades of progress towards controlling or eliminating these diseases at risk,” it said.

The report outlined the growing risks to health and climate and exposed inequities in the global response to climate change in general.

“It is the countries lowest on the human development index and often least responsible for rising greenhouse gas emissions that are lagging behind in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts and in realising the associated health benefits of accelerated decarbonisation.”

Observing that the world continues to subsidise fossil fuels, the report said, in 2018, 65 out of the 84 countries analysed by the Lancet Countdown researchers had net-negative carbon price equivalent to an overall subsidising fossil fuel.

The report pointed out how climate change and its drivers are creating ideal conditions for infectious disease transmission, potentially undoing decades of progress to control diseases such as dengue, fever, chikungunya, Zika, malaria and cholera and said, only 45 of the 91 countries (49 per cent) in 2021 reported having carried out a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment.

Only eight out of those 45 countries reported that their assessment of the effects of climate change on their citizens’ health had influenced the allocation of human and financial resources. As many as 69 per cent of the countries said insufficient financing was a barrier to implementing these plans, the report said.

“The 2021 report shows that populations of 134 countries have experienced an increase in exposure to wildfires. Millions of farmers and construction workers could have lost income because on some days it is just too hot for them to work. Drought is more widespread than ever before. The Lancet Countdown report has 40 indicators and far too many of them are flashing red,” said Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown, Professor Anthony Costello.

The Lancet Countdown report represents the consensus of leading researchers from 38 academic institutions and UN agencies.

The report exhorted politicians to show “leadership moving beyond rhetoric” by taking action at the UN climate change conference (COP26) which will take place from October 31 in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Carbon emissions must be rapidly reduced to improve health and to provide a more equitable, sustainable future,” it asserted.