Amrit Banstola: Harsh weather and extreme climatic events are expected to become more common as a result of climate change in Nepal (LI-BIRD, 2006). Extreme weather events such as floods, landslides, heat waves, storms, extreme cold, fires, and droughts are among the well-established consequences of climate change in Nepal.
Health conditions like heat stroke, injuries, malnutrition, vector and water borne diseases have been exacerbated by these climatic conditions. The situation is threatening in rural areas, where more than 80% of the total population of the nation resides; the majority of whom are below the poverty line. As a result, poor people in rural areas of Nepal are facing changing and serious health related challenges due to harsh weather conditions and climatic events.
The changes in the transmission season of vector borne diseases, increases in malnutrition due to lowered productivity, increases in the number of people suffering from deaths, diseases and injuries from extreme weather events, and increase in the burden of diarrheal diseases are some of the health related challenges that especially affect poor people of rural areas of Nepal, due to their limited access to clean water, adequate housing, protection from disease related vectors, and also due to decreased ability to produce adequate food, etc.
In Nepal, the epidemiological information reveals that disasters, famines and disease outbreaks have been triggered by droughts and floods in recent past. The immediate health impacts of floods are, drowning, injuries, contamination of water sources, and physical and mental trauma.
A severe flooding in the Sarlahi District of Nepal shows that the flood-related fatality rates for children were six times higher than mortality rates in the same villages a year before the flood (Unicef, 2008). Similarly, LI-BIRD (2006) estimates that “during 1954 to 2002, floods affected over a million people in Nepal, killed 5,003 people (24% of deaths from all disasters), and left almost 70,000 homeless (45% of homeless from all disasters)”.
In areas with poor/precarious housing and water supplies, floods have exacerbated the water born diseases that are linked to the population’s poor sanitary habits like open defecation and solid waste disposal.
In the Himalayan region, disasters, particularly the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) toll have resulted in larger number of deaths, injuries, displacements and mental trauma.
It is also observed that, the outbreaks of Malaria, Kalaazar and Japanese encephalitis are also linked to climate change in the Nepal’s subtropical and tropical regions. The area that is most at risk of an increase in these diseases cases is the lower flat plain of Nepal i.e. Tarai region, which is warmer than the mountain regions. Scientists and health experts have predicted that these diseases are occurring due to climatic changes and mostly the poor and disadvantaged groups are the one who suffer the most from these consequences (LI-BIRD, 2006).
In addition to the direct impacts of extreme weather events, studies and reports have confirmed the cases of vector borne disease in areas where the cases were not previously present. For example, Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) cases have been recently reported in the Doti (a hilly area of Far Western Region of Nepal) where cases were not previously found as per American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (AJTMH, Jan 2011) study. Moreover, scientists have reported that the mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue and yellow fever are spreading to higher altitudes in Nepal with increase in temperature.
To ward off these diseases is an additional challenge to people of Mountain region because according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) they are the world’s poorest citizens. The FAO also reports that “With few resources to protect against infectious diseases, the poor mountain residents are likely to be among global warming’s greatest victims, if human activities that contribute to climate change are not soon reversed.”
During a national workshop on ‘Climate Change and Human Health: Potential Impact, Vulnerability and Adaptation in Nepal, December 2007’ the scientists mentioned that Nepal has recorded about 1.8°C increase in temperature from 1975 – 2006. The participants of this workshop also mentioned that in future climatic changes will affect water quantity and food production affecting the livelihood and food security of mountain communities in Nepal. This will, in turn, increase the cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and other related diseases, with severe implications in child growth and development, particularly among poor residents of rural Nepal.
To deal with these conditions is a big challenge for the government at the national and local levels, to help Nepalese, especially the poor who are not yet fully covered by various health services. It is important that, the situation is addressed in a timely manner and with a well developed plan to help affected residents and community groups to adapt to and mitigate the adverse effects of ongoing climatic changes.
It is evident that the changes in climatic conditions will bring major new challenges to health security in terms of increased costs and difficulties of disease control. Therefore the role of the public health professionals can be expanded to address this in the following ways:
- Public health practitioners should play a key role to define and develop plans for adaptation/preparedness and manage their implementation.
- Multi sectoral teams, with strong health support, should work with communities bringing technical assistance and needed resources to help the communities develops their ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change and extreme climatic events.
- Public health professionals should increase their training and capacity to convey the negative impacts of climate change on human health and well-being, and take an active role in advocacy for government, private sector and the general population’s actions against climate change.
- Public health professionals should also conduct research on the health effects of climate change, including innovative techniques such as modeling and research on optimal adaptation strategies. They should provide the government and the public a strong evidence base for action.
About Author: Amrit Banstola has written this article for Climate Himalaya ‘s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Amrit is founder cum editor-in-chief of Public Health Perspective (PHP) Online Newsletter–the first online public health newsletter of Nepal
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.
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