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World Environment Day 2014: 7 ill effects of drastic climatic changes on human health

Climatic changes along with human invasion has devastated our environment. Here's why we need to stop it if we want to live.

Written by Shraddha Rupavate |Updated : July 15, 2014 4:30 PM IST

World environment day 2014June 5 is the World Environment Day

Over the past few decades, human activities including deforestation and industrialisation have accelerated the deterioration of environment, contributing to erratic climate changes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the rate of global warming has accelerated by more than 0.18oC per decade in the past 25 years. This has drastically affected our weather cycle causing intense heat, melting glaciers and variable rainfall patterns. These changes are not only affecting our ecosystem but are also working towards degrading our health to a great extent. In this article, we explain ill effects of constant weather changes on human health with inputs from Dr Sonia Gyamlani, Sr Internal Medicine, FMRI, Gurgaon.

1. Increased risk of heat related illness: Global warming has steadily increased the earth's temperature and given rise to extreme heat waves during summer. In India, the summer of 2010 has been recorded the hottest summer so far, where temperatures in various parts of the country touched 50 C (122 F). The impact is so worse that a recent study estimated that in near future rise in heat-related deaths due to climatic changes would outweigh deaths due to cold spells in winter in some countries. 'About 1.2 million deaths per year due to heat-related illnesses have been reported worldwide and the risk is found to be greater in children,' says Dr Sonia.

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2. Increased respiratory illnesses: Warmer temperatures in urban areas have increased the demand for electricity to run air conditioners, further increasing air pollution and emission of green house gases. Extreme heat along with air pollution has also increased cases of allergic asthma over the years. 'Lung capacity in children has decreased greatly. And looking at the rate of increase in temperature and pollution, the burden is expected to increase in the next few decades,' she says.

3. Increased risk of injuries: Melting glaciers have led to an overall increase in sea level and cause extreme precipitation events. This has elevated the frequency of wind and rain storms in some parts of the world. And in any natural disastrous calamity like storms, the number of injury related deaths increase.

4. Infectious diseases on the rise: 'Higher temperatures are optimum for growth and multiplication of some infectious organisms like Salmonella and other bacteria causing food poisoning. They can cause gastrointestinal problems and even death.'

5. Water borne diseases: Heavy rainfall and floods cause sewage to overflow and contaminate fresh water bodies. This increases the risk of water borne illnesses. Infections like gastroenteritis, diarrhea shoot up with every major climatic change.

6. Increased cases of vector-borne diseases: Man-made sewage pools and environmental changes serve as an open ground for breeding of mosquitoes. This is the main reason why we are still struggling with implantation of effective preventative measures for vector-borne disease like malaria. Today in India about 2 million cases of malaria are registered every year.

7. Cardiovascular deaths: It may be surprising but there seems to be a strong link existing between extreme heat and cardiovascular diseases. Studies have found that fluctuating temperatures (extreme cold and heat) increase hospitalization frequency due to heart related disorders. Particulate matter and increased ozone concentration exerts unwanted stress on the heart and blood vessels giving rise to a range of heart illness including deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and blood vessel dysfunction.

These health effects are just a few among the long list of environmental impact on health. Apart from these, Dr Sonia also highlights increase in cancer risk due to environmental changes. 'Depleting ozone due to flurocarbons has caused a rise in damage due to UV rays. So the cases of skin cancer have increased,' she says.

Dr Sonia also offers a few tips to deal with these erratic weather changes:

  • Use less energy to minimize the effect of global warming
  • Wear light coloured clothes when you're out in the sun
  • Preferably, avoid exposure to sunlight after 11 am. The UV damage is at its peak between 2-4 pm
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Although it's being said that fruits and vegetables are losing their nutritive value, it's best to buy them from a known source or a local area. The farther you go, the more the risk of contamination.
  • Avoid using microwaves for cooking to prevent nanoparticle damage of food
  • Ensure your environment is clean. Avoid stagnant water to prevent malaria.

There's hardly we can do anything about reversing the effects that have been caused over the years. But, it's time we take the responsibility and make individual choices to reduce its effect on human health, if not reverse.

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