From: Margie Mason, Associated Press
Published July 3, 2007 12:00 AM

Asia-Pacific Countries See Effects of Climate Change on Health, Brace for More

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Officials from more than a dozen Asian countries met Tuesday in Malaysia to outline health problems their populations are facing in relation to a rise in global temperatures.


Officials discussed ways to work together to limit the fallout in a region expected to be hit hard by flooding, drought, heat waves, mosquito-borne diseases and waterborne illnesses.


The World Health Organization estimates climate change has already directly or indirectly killed more than 1 million people globally since 2000. More than half of those deaths have occurred in the Asia-Pacific area, the world's most populous region. Those figures do not include deaths linked to urban air pollution, which kills about 800,000 worldwide each year, according to WHO.


"We're not going to have a magic bullet to fix climate change in the next 50 years. We need to motivate an awful lot of people to change their behavior in a lot of different ways," said Kristie Ebi, of the WHO's Global Environmental Change unit, a lead author on the health chapter in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. network of 2,000 scientists.


Ebi said health officials are about a decade behind other sectors, such as water and agriculture, in taking a look at what climate change could mean and how to deal with it. She said countries seeing the effects firsthand are now starting to realize that any problems with air, water or food will directly affect people's health. The poorest countries in Asia and Africa are expected to suffer the most.


Scientists have predicted droughts will lower crop yields and raise malnutrition in some areas, dust storms and wildfires will boost respiratory illnesses, and flooding from severe storms will increase drowning, injury and disease such as diarrhea. Increasing temperatures could also lead to the growth of more harmful algae that can sicken people who eat shellfish and reef fish. People living in low-lying coastal areas will also face more storms, flooding and saltwater intrusion into fresh groundwater that is vital for drinking.


Singapore saw mean annual temperatures increase 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit between 1978 and 1998, while the number of dengue fever cases jumped 10-fold during the same period.


Malaria has recently reached Bhutan and new areas in Papua New Guinea for the first time. In the past, mosquitoes that spread the disease were unable to breed in the cooler climates there, but warmer temperatures have helped vector-borne diseases to flourish.


Melting of glaciers in the Himalayas have created about 20 lakes in Nepal that are in danger of overflowing their banks, which could create a torrent of water and debris capable of wiping out villages and farms below.


The four-day workshop in Malaysia lays the groundwork for a ministerial-level meeting on the topic next month in Bangkok, Thailand.


Source: Associated Press


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