By Xanthi Andrianou and Konstantinos Christos Makris
Environment, climate change and health: what do we know?
Since the 1950s, systematic human activities have caused the exponential growth of key global ecological drivers of planetary health: disruption of the global climatic balance, environmental pollution, rapid biodiversity loss and resource scarcity. These are all linked with global demographic shifts, population health changes, and technological advances, which have improved the quality of life, globally. Life expectancy increased, infant mortality decreased, while we have improved access to safe water, education and life-saving health care. However, the progress comes with growing consumption habits that impose a large ecological footprint which, coupled with climate change manifestations, place substantial pressure on natural resources.
The eastern Mediterranean
Manifestations of climate change now appear more extreme and frequent, especially in our region. The eastern Mediterranean has experienced extensive heatwaves and longer periods of reduced rainfall that affects water availability.
Research using global climate models showed that the eastern Mediterranean area is anticipated to experience even longer periods with temperatures > 38°C in the coming years.
￼Interactions between the global ecological drivers may be imprinted on all environmental components, like air/soil/water quality, food production, natural hazards and infectious disease exposures. For instance, climate change may affect food crop production. Climate-driven higher concentrations of ground-level ozone may lead to reduced crop production, while higher carbon dioxide levels due to increase in greenhouse gas emissions could result in less nutritious staple crops.
These examples may seem simple, but they indicate how alterations in global drivers of planetary health may adversely influence the quality of regional and local environmental components with possible consequences on population and individual health.
What is the relevance for us and what can we do?
Nowadays, we can describe in detail the impact of global environmental phenomena that impact our everyday life, leading to increased public awareness about the interactions between environment and population or individual health. For example, we can monitor environmental phenomena such as natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes, tsunamis, forest fires) in real time. We can monitor how infectious diseases spread and how noncommunicable diseases incidence increased over the years. We have ample access to information about what happens globally and how different populations are affected. To better inform policy making, we can collect and analyse large amounts of data. As citizens, we have also improved our access to community-based information.
At the Cyprus International Institute for Environmental and Public Health (CII) of the Cyprus University of Technology in collaboration with colleagues from the Maastricht University, the Netherlands, we developed an online questionnaire which takes approximately 10 minutes and we like to hear what you think about the possible link, if any, between climate change and your health.
The questionnaire is available at the following address: https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/CII_Questionnaire.