Windhoek — Over a billion people globally do not have access to improved water supply sources, whereas 2.4 billion people do not have access to any type of improved sanitation facility. While approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year cause 2.2 million deaths, mostly among children under the age of five years.
The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, revealed these shocking statistics during a three-day inter-country workshop in Windhoek on Tuesday to prepare national action plans for public health adaptation to climate change, jointly organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the Namibian government.
Kamwi said Africa is increasingly being affected by natural disasters caused by climate change. "We also know that communicable diseases are a major public health problem worldwide, particularly in developing countries. Most of the communicable diseases are linked directly or indirectly with issues of the environment such as lack of access to safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation," said the health minister.
He cited intestinal worms that infect about 10 percent of the developing world. And an estimate of 6 million people are blind from trachoma, while 200 million people in the world are infected with schistosomiasis of which 20 million suffer severe consequences. Furthermore, Kamwi indicated that climate change has resulted in several consequences for human health.
Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by more than 30 percent since pre-industrial times, trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere, he noted. "The resulting changes in the global climate bring a range of risks to health, from deaths in extreme high temperatures to changing patterns of infectious diseases," he said.
Extreme weather conditions such as heavy rains, floods and disasters like hurricanes have a devastating impact, endanger health and destroy property and livelihoods, he added.
"Climate-sensitive diseases are among the largest global killers. Diarrhoea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition alone caused more than three million deaths globally in 2002, with over one third of these deaths occurring in Africa," Kamwi said.
In this respect, he said, the most affected populations are in developing countries, living in extreme conditions of poverty, particularly peri-urban dwellers and rural inhabitants. Among the main problems, which are responsible for the situation, are the lack of priority given to environmental issues and lack of financial resources, he pointed out.
Such concerns prompted ministers of health on September 04 last year, to adopt a resolution on a framework for public health adaptation to climate change in the African region. The resolution requests the WHO regional director to establish a pan-African programme for public health adaptation to climate change.
"This meeting is therefore a very important step to define very clearly the issues that need to be addressed urgently. There is a need for every country to establish the necessary institutional arrangements to facilitate not only the mainstreaming programmes, but also to align climate change adaptation priorities with national development goals," he said.