What are some of the health implications of climate change within Barbados and the region?

The health effects of climate change on food and water safety and nutrition was the subject of a seminar held in Rome in October 2008. The W. H. O. regional office for Europe and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United States were the chief sponsors as they marked this year’s World Food Day with the theme “The Challenges of Climate Change and Bio-energy”

At that conference it was stated that:

  • Challenges to nutrition and food and water safety are projected to grow due to climate change.
  • Climate change can worsen health inequities within and among countries and put additional stress on poorer groups.
  • The global cost of climate change is projected to be up by 5% of gross domestic product by the end of this century.
  • Climate change threatens to undermine progress made towards the millennium development goals.

The discussions at that conference and the mentioned indicators which concluded with much discussion and debate also have much relevance to the phenomenon called climate change. Given the scale of the challenges that we are likely to face, every interest group and government need to work closely to set up that framework that addresses this issue, and to work with regional and international partners and agencies to share relevant information that can lead to the development of appropriate systems to identify and tackle emergency risk that climate change is likely to bring.

The debate on climate change in Barbados has so far been focussed mainly on sea level rise and the associated threats to the fragile tourism industry, since most properties lie on our vulnerable coastal plains. We now need to examine what other threats climate change can bring, therefore the need to start now. I firmly believe that the earlier we act, the higher the benefits and the lower the cost will be over the long term.

We need to start now by acquiring what current knowledge is available, and build on what experiences others have so that we can start to adapt towards mitigation and building resilience capacity to support our participation facing the greatest risk.

In the face of what we know about the serious threats posed by climate change to health, the question today is not whether public health action is necessary, but what to do and how to do it.

Health systems should respond by helping to strengthen disease control and health protection. Actions include:

  1. Ensuring clean water and sanitation.
  2. Safe and adequate food.
  3. Disease surveillance and response.
  4. Disaster preparedness.
  5. Increasing health professionals’ awareness of climate related diseases.
  6. Deliverance of accurate and timely information to citizens.

It has been clearly stated that most of the actions causing climate change originate from the developed world, which are and have been contributing to the large scale emission of greenhouse gases. The notion that countries in the Caribbean are not responsible for discharging green house gases in vast quantities, it is however likely that the Caribbean will bear the biggest burden due to the fact that we are the recipients of whatever the developed countries do.