25 February 2016

Nigeria: Climate Change Fuels Spread of Diseases in Nigeria

The devastating effects of climate change are already here with us in Nigeria. Experts have blamed the recent rise in infectious diseases to climate change especially the El Nino event.

In fact, medical and environment experts told The Guardian "the effects of climate change are felt at every site of the country. Rising global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on human health and patterns of infection would change, with insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more easily."

A medical microbiologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Dr. Oyinlola Oduyebo, said: "There are some infections that occur in season, so naturally if there is a change in season or climate there will have to be changes in the type of infections and in the manner that there were originally known to occur."

Head of Department of Environmental Services, Ikeja Local Government Area (LGA), Lagos State, Mr. Kolawole Ajanaku, said: "Change in temperature could bring a lot of environmental problems. When sunlight reaches Earth's surface, it can either be reflected back into space or absorbed by Earth. Once absorbed, the planet releases some of the energy back into the atmosphere as heat (also called infrared radiation). Greenhouse gases like water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4) absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space. In this way, GHGs act like a blanket, making earth warmer than it would otherwise be.

"But the climate we have come to expect is not what it used to be, because the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. Our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts, and that change is progressing faster than any seen in the last 2,000 year."

Ajanaku, an environmentalist, who is also a Senior Advocate Nigeria (SAN), added: "That is why the Lagos state Government has taken the bull by the horn by planting trees across the state to reduce our carbon footprint that takes place annually on 14th of July."

The Minister of State for Environment, Usman Jubril, who was a panelist on a Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) programme, said: "The effects of climate change are felt at every sight of the country. Rising global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on human health and patterns of infection would change, with insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more easily."

Director, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Joseph Alozie, who was a panelist on the NTA programme said: "From 2015-2016 research shows a reduction in rainfall, which will bring about shorter length of season thereby affecting farmers making them choose which seed variety to plant.

"There will be further dry spells especially in the northern part of Nigeria. Since November 2015 Nigerians have witness drier conditions, stronger Harmattan even in Abuja a lot of dust is in suspension and flights have been cancelled, suspended and even delayed."

According to a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), severe drought, flooding, heavy rains and temperature rises are all known effects of El Niño that can lead to food insecurity and malnutrition, disease outbreaks, acute water shortages, and disruption of health services.

El Niño is a warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which affects rainfall patterns and temperatures in many parts of the world but most intensely in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America, which are particularly vulnerable to natural hazards. Typically, some places receive much more rain than normal while others receive much less.

The health implications are usually more intense in developing countries with fewer capacities to reduce the health consequences. The current El Niño from 2015 to 2016 is predicted to be the worst in recent years, and comparable to the El Niño in 1997-1998, which had major health consequences worldwide. In Eastern Africa, as a result of the El Niño in 1997-1998, WHO found that rainfall patterns were unusually heavy and led to serious flooding and major outbreaks of malaria, cholera and Rift Valley Fever.

Based on the latest UN figures, the report estimates 60 million people will be impacted by El Niño this year with many suffering health consequences.

When asked what the Federal Government is doing to reduce the impact of climate change, Jubril said, "Some agencies have been setup such as Great green wall initiative (GGW) aimed at battling desert encroachment particularly in the northern part of the country."

He added that some other organization and departments within the ministry of environment have been put in place, "particularly in erosion and coastal management which involves arresting the effect of sea level and rise in coastal erosion to solve the disastrous consequences of climate change". There are six technical departments apart from the agencies involved in the environmental regulation. Both the ministry of state and ministry of environment are ready to tackle any effect that climate change would bring.

The minister advised the public to make efforts to plant trees in their various communities and not leave it only to the State Government but play a part to ensure tree -planting is a must.

Meanwhile, several studies have shown that climatic factors are an important determinant of various vector-borne diseases, many enteric illnesses and certain water-related diseases. Both temperature and surface water have important influences on the insect vectors of vector-borne infectious disease. Of particular importance are vector mosquito species, which spread malaria and viral diseases such as dengue and yellow fever.

In Nigeria, a study by the United States Embassy in 2011 revealed an estimated 100 million malaria cases with over 300,000 deaths per year.

Recent research has shown that malaria thrives in the hot and humid areas where the Anopheles mosquito can live. As the climate warms, the territory where the mosquito and the malaria parasite will be able to live will likely expand, putting more people at risk. Already dengue fever, another mosquito-borne tropical disease, has re-established itself in the Florida Keys, where it was wiped out decades ago. Furthermore, heavy rain and warm temperatures have helped the mosquitoes carrying Zika thrive global warming is aggravating the problem.

An Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University, Dr. Aaron Bernstein said: "All pathogens viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites are temperature-sensitive. Furthermore, they have differences in how they reproduce and they infect people and other animals based on the temperature they are living at."

Similar to mosquitoes, rodents are highly adaptable. They will respond readily to disturbances in the environment brought about by climate change. Rodents reproduce fast (up to seventeen litters a year). They eat whatever humans' eat, and thrive on contaminated water and food. Rodents are vectors for a variety of deadly diseases.

They multiply in temperate regions following mild wet winters, act as reservoirs for various diseases. Certain rodent-borne diseases are associated with flooding, including leptospirosis, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic disease (Lassa fever).

Bernstein added: "Although few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on their health, the health effects are serious and widespread."

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