A warmer world already seems to be producing a sicker world, health experts reported Tuesday, citing surges in Kenya, China and Europe of such diseases as malaria, heart ailments and dengue fever.
“Climate affects some of the most important diseases afflicting the world,” said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum of the World Health Organization. “The impacts may already be significant.”
Kristie L. Ebi, an American public health consultant for the agency, warned “climate change could overwhelm public health services.”
The specialists laid out recent findings as the two-week U.N. climate conference entered its final four days, grappling with technical issues concerning operation of the Kyoto Protocol, and trying to set a course for future controls on global greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists attribute at least some of the past century’s 1-degree rise in global temperatures to the accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, byproducts of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources.
The Kyoto accord requires 35 industrial nations — not including the United States, which rejects the pact — to reduce such emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. President Bush says such emissions cuts would harm the U.S. economy and complains that poorer countries also should be covered.
Plan for emissions reductions
In Nairobi, the Kyoto parties are discussing what quotas and timetables should follow 2012 and how to draw the United States into a plan for mandatory emissions caps.
Britain’s environment secretary, David Miliband, an early arrival for high-level talks here, said participation of the United States, the world’s biggest emitter, was “essential.”
“I can’t think of a greater legacy for the last two years of the Bush presidency than to work on a bipartisan basis with Democrats as well as Republicans” for a deal to cut emissions, Miliband said.
Besides disrupting normal climate zones, continued temperature rises will “increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical-subtropical countries,” a U.N. network of climate scientists has projected.
Those problems are arising in parts of the world that have contributed little to global warming, Campbell-Lendrum noted.
“It’s a global issue and a global justice issue,” one that demands action by the industrial north to alleviate the disease burden on the south, the WHO scientist said.
Increase in mosquitoes
In Kenya, where temperature increases have tracked the global average, malaria epidemics have occurred in highland areas where cooler weather historically has kept down populations of disease-bearing mosquitoes, said Solomon M. Nzioka, a Kenyan Health Ministry consultant.
Research shows that even a seemingly small rise in temperatures can produce a 10-fold increase in the mosquito population, he said.
“Highland malaria seems to be on the increase in the rainy season and when temperatures are high,” Nzioka said.
The WHO’s Dr. Bettina Menne said malaria, which two decades ago was present in only three southeastern European countries, has spread north to Russia and a half-dozen other nearby countries. Russian news media reported in September that larvae of the anopheles mosquito, the malaria carrier, had been found in Moscow.
Menne cited a threat from other mosquito-borne diseases as well. “There’s an increased risk of local outbreaks, especially in the Mediterranean, of dengue and West Nile virus,” she said.
China is trying to track excess deaths from rising average temperatures, said Jin Yinlong of China’s Institute for Environmental Health. Authorities are particularly concerned about surging mortality from strokes and heart disease under warming conditions, he said. Global warming has been linked to more prolonged heat waves.
A study of three Chinese cities found annual excess deaths totaled between 173 and 685 per million residents, Jin said. Projected over the huge Chinese population of 1.3 billion, this could amount to as many as 890,000 deaths nationwide per year.