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States in India to Make Climate Action Plans: Must Focus on Health, Say Experts

Over seven lakh deaths annually happen due to climate change induced vector-borne diseases, according to the WHO.

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Climate Change
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In 2023, the World Health Organization had reported that over seven lakh deaths annually happened due to climate change induced vector-borne diseases. The global agency had warned if preventive actions are not taken, the number would only rise.

“Research shows that 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone.”
World Health Organization, 2023 report

At the time, the WHO had suggested that countries build ‘climate-resilient health systems’ to combat this.

According to recent media reports, states, in association with the National Centre for Disease Control, have been asked to formulate drafts for health-focussed climate action plans.

The Quint reached out to experts –  Raghu Murtugudde, Earth Systems Scientist at IIT Bombay, and Anjal Prakash, Clinical Associate Professor (Research) and Research Director Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business – to understand the nuances of a health-focussed climate action plan.

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Why the Need for a Climate Action Plan That Focuses on Health

But why do we need a health climate action plan in the first place? 

According to Raghu Murtugudde, after the COVID-19 pandemic, while we have become more conscious about health, there’s a lot that still needs to be done to breach an awareness gap. 

“There is still a lack of health-related data in our systems. However, there are some states like Kerala that have already developed heat action plans for health, in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority, that are working well.”
Raghu Murtugudde

Anjal Prakash agrees. He says that a health-focussed climate action plan is needed:

  • to safeguard public health 

  • to address climate-health risks such as that of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases posed by air pollution

  • to prioritise equity in ensuring access to healthcare

“A climate action plan which is health focussed is indispensable in the present time because we need it for protecting communities, preventing adverse health effects, promoting equity, building resilience, and ensuring that systems are built in the future that address our climate related challenges instead of limiting us.”
Anjal Prakash

Murtugudde also adds that the government’s National One Health Mission, if implemented well, could help with this since it scrutinises health issues among all living beings, how the climate affects them, and the consequences it can have on our health too.

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What Does an Ideal Health & Climate Action Plan Look Like?

There are several key areas that an ideal health and climate action plan must bring up measures for and combat. According to Prakash, a comprehensive health-focussed climate action plan should address:

  • Need for robust measures for air quality management

  • Emission reduction in industries and transportation

  • Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation facilities, especially in areas that are seeing climate-induced water scarcity

  • Strengthen early warning systems and disaster preparedness in crucial areas to mitigate health concerns due to extreme weather events

  • Targeted strategies to control vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria

  • Activating health infrastructures in flood-prone areas

  • Tailored support to vulnerable populations in rural and urban areas, taking into consideration socio-economic factors, climate concerns, and health infrastructure

While these are universal issues that of course need to be addressed, Murtugudde also points out that each state would have to come up with individual action plans to combat diseases endemic to that region.

“For instance, in Pune, we closely observed dengue mortality and saw that it had a strong link to humidity, rainfall, temperature, etc. Similarly, when we observed typhoid cases in Surat and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, we realised that Ahmedabad has more cases despite having more resources, less rainfall, and lesser slums, compared to Surat. That is because Surat spends more on sanitation, safe drinking water, etc. In North India, cases of asthma in children increase when there's air pollution. We need to be monitor these factors as well.”
Raghu Murtugudde

What Murtugudde indicates is that the local climate, temperatures, rainfall, humidity, wind, vector growth, etc, needs to be monitored while preparing a comprehensive health-focussed climate action plan.

He adds that local environmental factors that promote the growth of microbes, viruses – and in turn zoonotic diseases – also need to be monitored.

Over the years, Murtugudde has also recommended that an Infectious Diseases Forecast Centre be also established in India to address these concerns. 

“The most important thing still remains factoring in who is the most vulnerable and how to make help accessible for them,” concludes Prakash.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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