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Climate impact on health: India’s heat-related deaths went up by 55%, finds Lancet data

Some 98 million more people across the world reported moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020. Photo: iStock Some 98 million more people across the world reported moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020. Photo: iStock

Growing reliance on fossil fuels have increased heat deaths, hunger, heat-related illnesses and infectious diseases, according to a new study.

Some 98 million more people across the world reported moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 than the average in 1981-2010, noted the study published by The Lancet, a journal October 25, 2022. Extreme weather events were devastating for countries across the world.

The Lancet came out with its global annual countdown on the health impacts of climate change less than a fortnight ahead of the 27th Conference of Parties (CoP 27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The findings of the report are grim.

Vulnerable populations were exposed to 3.7 billion more heatwave days in 2021 than annually in 1986–2005, the report noted. Heat-related deaths increased by 68 per cent between 2000–2004 and 2017–2021.

The number of months suitable for malaria transmission increased by 31.3 per cent and  and 13·8 per cent in the highland areas of the Americas and the highland areas of Africa from 1951–60 to 2012–21 respectively. The likelihood of dengue transmission rose by 12 per cent between 1951–60 and 2012–21.

An India-specific factsheet, derived from data in The Lancet report but not a part of the document itself, has significant findings.
It found that heat-related deaths increased by 55 per cent between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021.

Some 167.2 billion potential labour hours were lost due to heat exposure. It amounts to an equivalent economic loss of 5.4 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

The number of months suitable for dengue transmission by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes rose to 5.6 months each year — 1.69 per cent increase between 1951-1960 and 2012-2021.

Infants went through 0.9 more heatwave days per year, while adults over 65 experienced 3.7 more days per person compared to 1986, the factsheet noted.

“Countries and companies continue to make choices that threaten the health and survival of people in every part of the world,” the report noted in its call to action.

The evidence is unequivocal as countries devise ways to recover from the coexisting crises. At this critical juncture, an immediate, health-centred response can still secure a future in which world populations can not only survive but thrive, it added.

Two key factors are compounding the situation. The first is a continuously increasing reliance on fossil fuels three decades after the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Under this framework, countries agreed to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change and its deleterious effects on human health and welfare.”

Currently, renewable energy contributes less than 8.2 per cent of the total global source — with less than 1 per cent reduction in the carbon intensity of the global energy system.

The second factor is a crumbling healthcare system battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lancet report read:

Only “48 (51 per cent) of 95 countries reported having assessed their climate change adaptation needs and, even after the profound impacts of COVID-19, only 60 (63 per cent) countries reported a high to very high implementation status for health emergency management in 2021.”

Some progress has been made on the climate change and health nexus, particularly in the media, where coverage of this intersection reached record levels in 2021.

A similar benchmark was set at the 2021 UN General Assembly debate, where 60 per cent of 194 countries focused on the links between climate change and health.

“Despite the challenges, there is clear evidence that immediate action could still save the lives of millions, with a rapid shift to clean energy and energy efficiency,” the report concluded.

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