WHO: Disease, floods with warming
April 7, 08

MANILA (AP) — Millions of Asians could face poverty, disease and hunger as a result of rising temperatures and increased rainfall expected to hit hardest poor countries, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and floods cause an estimated 150,000 deaths annually, with Asia accounting for more than half, said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes represent the clearest telltale sign that global warming has begun to impact human health, he said, adding the virus-borne mosquitoes are now found in cooler climates such as South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Warmer weather means that mosquitoes' breeding cycles are shortening, allowing them to multiply at a much faster rate, posing an even greater threat of disease, he told reporters in Manila.

The exceptionally high number in Asia of dengue cases, which are also spread by mosquitoes, could be due to rising temperatures and rainfall, but Omi said more study is needed to establish connection between climate change and dengue.

"Without urgent action through changes in human lifestyle, the effects of this phenomenon on the global climate system could be abrupt or even irreversible, sparing no country and causing more frequent and more intense heat waves, rain storms, tropical cyclones and surges in sea level," he said.

In the Marshall Islands and South Pacific island nations, rising sea levels have already penetrated low-lying areas, submerging arable lands and causing migrations to New Zealand or Australia, he said.

Omi said poorer countries with meager resources and weak health systems will be hit hardest because malnutrition is already widespread, with the young, women and the elderly at particular risk.

He said unusual, unexpected climate patterns — too much rain or too little — have an impact on food production, especially irrigation crops such as rice, and can cause unemployment, economic upheavals and political unrest.

Dr. John Ehrenberg, WHO adviser on malaria and other parasitic diseases, said climate change in combination with unchecked human development has contributed to the problem. That includes deforestation and an unprecedented level of human migration. As people move, so do diseases.

Omi said governments need to strengthen and reform current systems, including clean water, immunization, disease surveillance, mosquito control and disaster preparedness.

Original article: USA Today
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