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Opinions of Sunday, 9 August 2015

Columnist: Alex Ababio

Combat Climate Change to sustain Investment in Health Care

The current disasters hitting Myanmar and the Middle is practically an overwhelming evident to conclude that a change in the climate has a devastating effect on the world’s population which needs an urgent and practicable solution to give the world a respite from this canker.

This is the more reason why I would want to commend the President of United States, Barack Obama for joining the world’s leading health experts to support their claim that Climate Change may pose the biggest health risk of the 21st Century.

As an evident to prove that he is committed to fighting climate change Obama announced that the USA is now taking “unprecedented action” to combat climate change, he also noted that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate”.

However, his plan is not just about preventing the longer term impacts of climate change. According to health experts across America, his plan to reduce pollution from coal-fired plants will actively prevent 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days.

Actions such as this however will not be able to reach as far as Myanmar, which this week reported the worst flooding across the country in decades.

According to an update from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between 67,000 and 110,000 have been "severely affected" by floods that look to set the country back years.

"I've never experienced such a terrible flood in my life," Thein Tun, a 57-year-old retired teacher from one of the worst-hit areas that has yet to receive aid, western Rakhine state.

In Ghana, the situation is not different.The nation has been confronted with a visible devastating effect of climate change which is increasingly posing an irreparable health hazards and damage to the well-being of people.

This catastrophic nightmare is arguably hitting hard against people living in Sub-Saharan countries in particular Ghana .Now the situation in our part of the world is a sorry site as Government after Government have woefully failed to put in place adequate and significant policy framework that can stand the test of time to find a lasting solution to this canker or probably manage the effect of climate change and Global Warming on the country.

On 3rd June 2015 Ghana witnessed a horrific and very disastrous tragedy which made the whole country went on its knees with a heavy heart in grieve. The entire nation stood still with fear and sorrow for several days as devastating floods and fire explosion at petrol station at Adabraka a suburb of Accra killed about 200 people.

This is how Wikipedia, the internet free encyclopedia recorded it: ‘’On June 3, 2015, a GOIL fuel station near Kwame Nkrumah Interchange was burnt with people and vehicles in the vicinity.[10] The fire also burnt a Forex Bureau and Pharmacy nearby.[Over 200[ people are feared dead and bodies have been moved to the 37 Military Hospital. The hospital later announced they are unable to hold more bodies.[The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. On 4 June 2015 the Mayor of Accra Alfred Vanderpuije, Member of Parliament for Korle Klottey, Nii Armah Ashitey and President John Mahama visited the scene”.

Consequently ,government moved in at Fadama and Sodom and Gomoria,a slum area in Accra,Ghana to demolish every structure of the settlers or squatters as part of a strategy and measure to prevent future occurrence of floods that has over the years been the perennial situation bedeviling the capital city of the country.

The Government believed these illegal occupants at Fadama slum area have built structures on water ways which as a results has over the years been considered as one of the major causes of flooding in Accra.

However, other parts of Central Asia are currently in the midst of one of the hottest heat-waves ever recorded. In the wake of temperatures above 46 degrees celsius last week, Iraq had to declare a 4 day national holiday. Meanwhile, temperatures in neighbouring Iran reached a relative temperature of 74 Celsius today.

This comes in the wake of recent heatwaves which have killed upwards of 2000 people in India and Pakistan earlier this year.

In the wake of events such as these, Catherine Thomassan, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility has called Climate Change “the greatest threat to public health in the 21st Century”.

This reiterates a growing awareness from the international medical establishment as to the dire impacts that Climate Change is already having. In fact, it is the central theme of a recent series of publications commissioned by the leading medical research journal, the Lancet.

According to Nick Watts, the head of the commission, “Climate change has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of advancements in public health.”

Human adaptive strategies to respond to climate-related events such as, floods, high temperatures and sea level rise are fundamentally tied to people’s ability to reduce their vulnerability to daily shocks and stresses, including from disease. Climate change is likely to exacerbate these shocks and stresses, particularly among the poorest and most vulnerable populations (i.e. fishers, slum dwellers, etc) and, therefore, inhibit the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Nick calls “the great localiser of the impacts of Climate Change,” because the impacts that will be faced “aren’t just in low-income countries, they are in middle and high income countries as well”. And these impacts are “especially alarming”.

Not only does Climate Change have the potential to affect people at the forefront of floods and heatwaves as we have seen this week, but he also believes that if drastic action is not taken, Climate impacts have the potential to affect every aspect of our lives.

As we think of drastic action to end this canker it beholds on every country irrespective of its status to formulate policies and proper measures to find a lasting solution to this problem.

But sadly enough a lot of countries in the world including Ghana have no or posse pathetic scientific and policy planning capacity to incorporate climate compatible strategies into climate sensitive sectors, such as in the health sector. More so a multi-sectoral approach is demanded if countries must build resilience of both urban and rural settlements exposed to climatic events and extremes.

Unfortunately, majority of world population including Ghanaians especially the rural and slum dwellers who are directly affected by the vagaries of the Climate Change do not have any knowledge in respect to tendencies such as floods and other health hazards that come about as a result of Global Warming .They also do not know how they could help prevent the situation to create serene environment for themselves . In view of this there should be a policy framework and Climate Change Management blue print that should be incorporated into national policy and planning, involving representatives from the Ministry of Health of countries, Environmental Protection Agencies, Meteorological Services, The National Disaster Management Organisations and the city engineer units of the various Metropolitan Assemblies and some community members especially opinion leaders to solve this problem.

There should be serious educative and training programmes on how to inform urban and rural dwellers about climate change. They should be thus educated to know the general stressors (including climate change) that impact their livelihoods and how it does health feature in their livelihood stressors.They should also be taught to recognize how they can establish the link between climate change and health .

Further more , they have to receive adequate knowledge to be able to know how has their health been affected (past and present) by climate variability and change. The city planners should also be up and doing and be up to their tasks and responsibility to prevent development of slum areas in our cities. It is arguably and widely held view that slum dwellers are the most victims of climate change related health problems such as Malaria, Cholera, diarrhea and other economic hardships.

In addition to collectively combat the situation, there should be critical and adequate lessons about health effects of the Global Warming that could inform health care planners and policymakers to be better prepared for future climate change impacts. The city planners and policy makers should as part of collective effort put in place systems including water and sanitation systems to deal with climate variability and extremes (flooding, torrential rains). Significantly, the existing systems should be strengthened and properly maintained to protect the health of urban communities in the face of climate change

As Obama notes, "Climate change is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore."