Climate Change Affects Community Health as Well as the Environment

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
While climate change is widely acknowledged as an environmental problem, its status as a health problem is gaining recognition, Northumberland County council’s Community Health Committee heard at its August meeting.

Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit Health Promoter Sue Shikaze cited calls for a health-centred response to climate change from the 2022 Lancet Report on Health and Climate Change and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

Locally, she said, HKPR has completed a Climate Change Health Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment focusing on increased risks in six areas – extreme temperatures, extreme weather and natural events, vector-borne diseases, safe food and water supplies, air quality and exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation.

A simple formula would be exposure + sensitivity + adaptive capacity = vulnerability.

“We know not everybody experiences climate change in the same way, just as we know that during the COVID-19 pandemic we ere all affected but there were certain groups of people who were more severely impacted,” Shikaze said.

She listed some examples of those who might be most vulnerable based on these three factors – older adults, young children, pregnant and disabled individuals, low-income individuals, those with chronic illnesses or mental-health issues, Indigenous populations, those who work or play outdoors.

“Layer these things on top of each other, and it adds up to more vulnerability,” she said – consider, for example, an elderly lady with a heart condition living alone on the top floor of an apartment building in a unit without air conditioning.

Impacts that can be expected in the HKPR region include more hospital ER visits due to heat-related or food- or water-borne illness, injuries from floods and extreme weather events, worsening of chronic illnesses, higher incidence of skin cancer, more impacts on mental health, and increased risk of poor birth outcomes, lung cancer, and Lyme and other vector-borne diseases.

Shikaze said the next step is to work towards building adaptive capacity, listing such current HKPR programming as recreational water testing, poverty-reduction work, emergency planning, monitoring and surveillance of ticks and mosquitoes, advocating for healthy policy, and public outreach in terms of education and skill building.

“Effective climate health action does require collaboration across many sectors, including municipalities and partners that work with these vulnerable groups to look at how we can all collectively use our skills and resources to take action to ensure people’s health is as protected as possible,” she added.

The health unit is working with member municipalities in such areas as climate- change plans, emergency planning and preparedness, land-use and community-design policies and planning, poverty reduction, and education and awareness raising.

The next step is to develop a communications plan to share these findings and raise awareness of the links between climate change and health, as well as to continue to build and strengthen community partnerships.

“During the pandemic, this work was paused because I was redeployed to our COVID team,” Shikaze said.

“A lot of the work I have been doing over the past six months has been reconnecting and re-engaging with community partners.”

Looking ahead, work is continuing on an Adaptation Action Plan, a draft of which should be completed by December.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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