WHO says climate change poses health risks

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MANILA (AFP) – The World Health Organization on Wednesday warned Asia Pacific countries that they could be vulnerable to health risks and food shortages as a result of climate change.

Climate change is among the topics being discussed in a regional WHO conference being held in Manila, and governments are being pushed to put health issues in their national climate change mitigation plans, officials said.

Outgoing WHO regional director Shigeru Omi said that while they have been successful in dealing with controlling diseases, focus should shift to addressing “global health security” arising from global warming.

“A warmer planet has contributed to some diseases, such as dengue, now occurring in areas where it was never seen before,” Omi said in a statement.

“Heat waves and droughts are among the many factors contributing to the current food crisis,” he added. “Rising oceans could soon threaten our low-lying island states and areas in the Pacific.”

A draft paper being discussed at the conference called for a regional framework of action to protect human health from climate change.

The paper said health risks include heat stress, waterborne and food-borne diseases associated with extreme weather events and malnutrition.

“These risks and diseases are not new, and the health sector already is tackling these problems,” the paper noted.

“However, the capacity to cope with potentially increasing levels of these risks and diseases is limited, particularly in developing countries.”

There remains a “limited” political commitment to include health considerations “in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” the paper said.

“There is also insufficient awareness among the general public about climate change and its impact on health,” it said.

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