As temperatures begin to rise due to the impact of climate change, the burden of disease and health risks also escalate, the Ministry of Health said on Tuesday. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s issue, it’s happening right now and it’s affecting people’s health as well as contributing to more premature deaths,” Wan Alkadri, director of environmental health at the ministry, told a seminar held in conjunction with the World Health Organization and the French Embassy.
Wan said that health problems associated with climate change were likely to hit developing countries and coastal populations hardest, citing as an example predictions that sea levels could rise by up to 60 centimeters if global warming was not addressed.
“Indonesia is particularly at risk because we are a tropical country, and as a developing country we still have limited resources to tackle the issue,” he said. Climate change has damaged ecosystems, raised world temperatures, changed rainfall patterns and raised sea levels, all of which, Wan said, could lead to potentially fatal health problems.
“In Pekalongan in Central Java for instance, seawater is already flooding neighborhoods in the vicinity all the time and people get sick easily.” Wan also said climate change often triggered extreme events, including floods, landslides and tidal flooding. These extreme events, he said, were tied to higher health risks as they promoted the spread of many diseases by increasing the number of transmittable disease vectors.
Rising temperatures, for example, contributed to more breeding places being available for mosquitoes. “Mosquitoes don’t survive in cold temperatures such as in the mountains, but as the temperature there has been rising, they can now survive there and transmit more disease,” Wan said, adding that the problem had added to the burden of eradicating malaria, dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Increased rainfall in the northern parts of the country due to climate change could cause flooding and landslides, both of which would damage crops and reduce food security. “If this happens, we will face more serious malnutrition problems than what we’re facing right now,” Wan said.
Conversely, reduced rainfall in the southern part of the country damaged water sources and reduced water quality, leading to higher risks from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.
Sharad Adhikary, the environmental health director at the WHO office in Indonesia, said the increased health risks created by climate change should be a significant cause for concern for all countries. “No person or nation is immune to the impact of climate change on human health,” he said.
The French deputy ambassador, Jean Yves Roux, said that people should stop thinking of climate change as a problem for the future and start addressing it immediately, and that scientists from around the world needed to work together to tackle the issue as every nation faced the common dangers that came along with it.
Source: The Jakarta Globe – June 16, 2009 by Dessy Sagita