This past Monday, I attended a second side event at the COP16 international climate change meetings focusing on human health issues. In a packed room of over 150 delegates, panelists from the World Health Organization, World Food Program, UN High Commission on Refugees and a government representative of Mozambique highlighted the need to enshrine health concerns in the formal text of any international treaty on climate change that is hammered out here in Cancun or at future COP meetings. At the same time, individual countries must incorporate specific actions to integrate the health sector into national adaptation programs of action, known as NAPAs. On this point, some initial progress is being made. The WHO representative cited a survey demonstrating that 95% of country level NAPAs identify health as a sector affected by climate change. Unfortunately, of these same countries, only 27% had developed health adaptation projects that were considered adequate.
Panelists at the session argued that strengthening health systems and services in the context of intensifying climate change is imperative. According to the World Food Program (WFP) representative, climate change significantly multiplies the vulnerability of the poor; as a result, the number of people at risk of hunger due to climate change is expected to increase by 20% over the next 40 years. Arguing for a paradigm shift in the context of food and climate change, she called for national programs that ensure both food availability and access to high quality, nutritious food.
Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order all around. Climate change offers a stark example of an environmentally driven health challenge that knows no boundaries of geography, class, or sectoral divide. Addressing climate change effectively requires the marshalling of resources across the health, environment, agriculture and business sectors. It also requires the development of strong networks of communication and coordination, integrated development approaches, and strong North-South partnerships.
PHI, through our Center for Public Health and Climate Change, invites organizations across sectors to join us in our efforts to spark swift change in the public health system and beyond. Join us today!