Recently, devastating cyclones have hit one of the most powerful and developed nation of the world. Earth quakes in different parts of the world, floods, landslides, e.t.c. are natural calamities which are said to be due to damage caused to nature in process of development. Global warming and climate changes are issues currently worrying the whole world and being much discussed. But they also adversely affect human health in multiple ways.
Changing climates, extreme weather conditions, pollutants in the environment, release of toxic chemicals in the atmosphere, all have lead to emergence of new diseases and or increase in prevalence of new diseases. This happens due to multiple factors. A certain climate being favorable for sustenance of some kinds of disease spreading vectors, allowing them to multiply, may lead to increase in disease or introducing new diseases in an area. Examples are diseases like malaria, dengue, swine flu, bird flu, e.t.c. Sudden precipitating events like excess rainfall, snow fall, results in contamination of water bodies with various kinds of microbes, harmful algae and toxic chemicals. This leads to water borne diseases like cholera, other intestinal diseases causing diarrhoea and vomiting. Prevalence of cold, cough and asthma is also increased after excess rains. Similarly drought conditions cause concentration of disease causing microbes and toxic chemicals and algae in water bodies, causing various kinds of in
fectious illnesses. Drought also leads to malnutrition in the affected population, making them vulnerable to various diseases due to reduced immunity. Malnutrition makes people vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases as well.
Fluctuating climates also causes problems like erythrometalgia. Here there is swelling and redness with intense pain around fingers and toes.
Increasing use of pesticides for pest control has lead to neurological problems like brain atrophy, Parkinsonism, brain defects in children e.t.c. The various chemicals have also caused increase in various kinds of cancers. Allergy to chemicals which are increasingly being used in various industries, food processing, e.t.c. has lead to increased prevalence of allergy related problems like bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis and skin rashes. Emissions from various sources, smoke and other atmospheric pollutants, have compounded this problem.
The overall pollution, climate changes have affected not only mankind but also negatively affected the vegetable kingdom, animals and marine life as well. Many of these provide food to man. Thus their affection adversely affects the quality of food consumed by men, reducing the quality of nutrients and adversely affecting his health.
Mental stress, depression, e.t.c. mental problems have also been linked to extreme climate changes and have increased in prevalence globally. Injuries and stress, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused due to natural calamities like earth quakes, landslides, e.t.c. can be added to the health related problems caused due to environmental damage.
Thus it can be seen that harm to the natural eco system has harmed men in various ways including his health.
Scientists, environmentalists, medical professionals, have started to realize this problem. But still greater awareness needs to be generated among masses, regarding keeping a healthy environment and eco-system .
The first and easiest measure in this direction would be creating awareness about reducing meat consumption. Studies have shown that widespread adoption of vegetarian diet would reduce food related emissions by about 63%. This is because currently, the food system is responsible for more than a quarter of green house gas emissions and therefore a major factor in climate changes and global warming.
Tree plantation is yet another important measure, because trees absorb carbon di oxide, thus reducing its amount in the atmosphere. Trees also help to prevent soil erosion. The efforts should be to plant as many trees as are cut.
Bio fuels from waste sources can replace the existing ones. Energy efficient tools should replace the ones consuming more energy. Efforts done by Government of Rwanda in this direction are appreciable. Motivating people to use solar energy, regular technical check up of vehicles for monitoring emission of smoke and other toxic fumes from motor vehicles, e.t.c. are measures which will go a long way in protecting the environment and thus health along with development.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine