By Sharon Atieno
Unless the world meets the Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius , the damaging impact of climate change on children could worsen, the Lancet report reveals.
“The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change, with populations around the world increasingly facing extremes of weather, food and water insecurity, changing patterns of infectious disease, and a less certain future. Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives,” the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report finds.
The report notes that with increase in temperatures, children will be more vulnerable as infectious diseases continues to rise. In Kenya, the ability of one mosquito to increase dengue fever has risen by 20% since 1950s as a result of climate change.
Moreover, climatic suitability for the transmission of malaria continues to increase in highland areas of sub-Saharan Africa, which are among the most densely populated agro-climatic zones in sub-Saharan Africa.
“With its high rates of healthcare inequality, poverty, and food insecurity, the health effects of climate change are going to be felt strongly across Africa,” says Nick Watts, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown. “Dengue and malaria will spread into new areas, a more hostile climate will continue to threaten food security, and without immediate action, climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation.”
With crop yield potential reducing, children are at risk of malnutrition. Since the 1960s, crop yield potential has reduced by 6.4% for maize, 1.5% for winter wheat, 1.1% for spring wheat and 1.5% for rice in Kenya.
The livestock system in Kenya has not been spared as there has been several major droughts since 2000 which have affected millions of people and resulted in loss of billions of dollars, particularly in arid and semi-arid lands that occupy 80-90% of Kenya’s land area. The droughts are projected to increase in frequency and intensity.
According to the report, limiting the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius is still possible, noting that placing health at the centre of the coming transition will yield enormous dividends for the public and the economy, with cleaner air, safer cities and healthier diets.
It also calls for bold new approaches to policy making, research, and business in order to limit temperature rise.
Rosemary Sang, a scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) who has closely studied climate-driven diseases endemic to Kenya, says that the report shows the importance of including African perspectives in global surveys of climate change impacts.
“Past and current economic activities in the West are likely to affect Africa’s future for decades to come,” she said. “We cannot afford to wait on the sidelines for the right decisions to be made; we must lend our voices to those calling for urgent action now.”
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking progress across 41 key indicators, demonstrating what action to meet Paris Agreement targets—or business as usual—means for human health.
The indicators are split into climate change: impact; exposure and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; migration actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; as well as public and political engagement. Emissions attributable to livestock and crops, is a new addition to the indicators.