Living on the Edge: Climate change's influence on human health Friday, 12 January 2018

Source: Stuff, 12 January 2018

Climate change may be an  environmental crisis but the havoc it will play on human life could also be hefty.

By 2030, it is predicted 250,000 more people across the world will die from causes such as heat exposure, diarrhoea and  malaria while 500,000 more deaths will be linked to a reduction in the global food supply.

For New Zealand, a warmer climate will result in allergies becoming more common, and their symptoms worse, the reliability of drinking water coming into question, melanoma rates increasing along with the prevalence of  mosquito-borne diseases.

report from the Royal Society said the mental health of New Zealanders could also come under strain as they face off against more frequent extreme weather events, including flooding and fires.

Dr Jonathan Jarman, medical officer of health for Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) said there was "no doubt" the climate was changing but he believed the region had enough time to adapt.

"However it may be a different story in other parts of New Zealand.  Prolonged droughts for example will have an impact on the national economy which will ultimately affect everyone," he said.

That's not to say Taranaki is not immune from the effects of prolonged hot and dry weather. 

On December 23,  Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor declared a drought in parts of the North Island including Taranaki, Wellington and Manawatū-Whanganui.

When Jarman was asked about whether health complaints were likely to increase in Taranaki, he said it was hard to predict but he did not foresee "any big direct health changes for us in the near or medium future."

He said Taranaki's west coast maritime climate will hopefully protect the region's residents from ailments like heat related disorders.

"Our summer and winter temperatures, if they increase, are going to be like Auckland or Kaitaia so I don't really think that there will be an explosion in infectious diseases.  However, nasty exotic mosquitoes are more likely to become established up north but probably won't like our Taranaki climate."

Jarman said district councils would have some "big challenges" in the future relating to infrastructure, some of which will be caused by the effects of climate change.

But he would not include Taranaki's drinking water supplies on this list, as he had no specific concerns that they would be affected.

One section of the population which is likely to bear the brunt most was its least privileged, he said.

"Poor people are always the shock absorber when things go bad in the economy or the climate. It is much better for everyone if we can reduce the gaps between the rich and the poor.  This is the main issue to consider when looking at advanced planning around health challenges associated with climate change."

Jarman said one of the ironies of the climate change issue was that what was often best for the planet also benefited human health.

"These are called co-benefits.  Bikeable and walkable communities reduce carbon emissions and are healthier, offering less pollution, less congestion and healthier more active people. Plant based diets have less carbon footprint  than meat diets and are also better for health," he said.