COVID 19: Links between climate change and infectious diseases

Climate change is one of the most serious challenges the world is facing right now. As the global economy reaches new heights and industrial progress climbs new heights at the cost of earth’s ecological balance, climate change can have several undesired effects on our quality of life. Toxic air, forest fires, and melting icebergs are just some of the catastrophes which environmental experts see in the future if nothing is done to arrest climate change.

Over the past few years, there has been a greater focus on the issue of climate change. Be it the Paris climate pact or a teen Greta Thunderberg taking the cudgels for the environment, the world appreciates the new-found emphasis on this problem. However, there is still a long way to go and the world at large wouldn’t give climate change its due share of attention until it gets to know the potential damage it can cause.

One of the gravest effects of climate change is how it can hamper human health. Experts believed that factors like urbanization linked with population growth, unchecked and unsustainable industrial development coupled with the impact of climate change can hamper human health. It is a known fact that the polluted environment triggered diseases for years. For instance, rapid urbanisation often leads to outbreaks of cholera due to lack of sanitation and hygiene and water contamination. Another example of this phenomenon would be how deforestation creates conditions conducive for malaria as cleared lands and water logging create more breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

In fact, experts often claim that global warming is only going to increase the spread of disease-causing bacteria and viruses in the near future. The claim is also espoused by organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to WHO, the way we live our lives can affect how fast or slow a disease-carrying vector or microbe strikes. Vectors like harmful bacteria thrive and reproduce in a wide range of climatic conditions, which is that climate change is conducive to their growth.

There is also ample historical evidence to support this theory. For instance, malaria is known to thrive seasonally in endemic areas. The correlation has been studied for long in India. In the early 20th century, outbreaks of malaria were common in Punjab where the rate of irrigation is very high. The excessive rainfall and high humidity create conducive conditions for mosquitoes to breed and thereby lead to spread of malaria.

Currently, the world is reeling under a similar infection threat, namely the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). With symptoms similar to common cold or flu, the infection has claimed hundreds of lives across the world. Novel coronavirus took the world by storm, forcing thousands of people to self-isolate themselves at home to check its spread. While there is no link between Covid-19 and climate change, there is enough research to support the claim that several factors are connecting the spread of infectious diseases to climate change.

Countries, territories or areas with reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, 21 March 2020 , Image Credit: WHO, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/

This phenomenon could be very well elucidated with the concept of social distancing. As you might be aware, people across the world have been advised to practise social distancing – staying indoors, avoid large gatherings and standing at least a metre apart to check the virus from spreading. But did you know that by practising social distancing you can also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? According to Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher from Sweden’s Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies, the three main contributors to carbon emissions are aircraft, automobile and consumption of animal-based products. By self-isolating themselves and practising social distancing, citizens across the globe are cutting down on unnecessary usage of limited resources like fuel. These precautions might be an effort to combat novel coronavirus, but it is also benefitting our fight against global warming by reducing the world’s carbon footprint. Studies suggest that by staying more at home and banking more on e-commerce for chores like shopping for groceries, citizens can cut down greenhouse gas emissions substantially.

One does not know what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean that one gets reckless with the limited resources the earth has to offer. Over the years, climate changes have assumed a more important position in the hierarchy of challenges that the world faces. However, we still have a long way to go before it gets its due share of attention. The fight needs not just more funding, but more government and technical support to undo some of the damage unleashed by global warming. There are several parts of the world that are experiencing frequent droughts and floods, apart from other meteorological anomalies. These are just some of the consequences of climate change, which will only become worse in the future. If the temperature rises even by half-a-degree Celsius, it can have an everlasting effect on the quality of life, and thus our health.  Stay safe!

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