The World Meteorological Congress has agreed to scale up services to protect public health given that climate-related illnesses, premature deaths, malnutrition and threats to mental health and well-being are increasing.
A new resolution states that “accelerated implementation of life-saving preparedness and early warnings of extreme heat, biological, and other risks to human health, should occur in coordination with the Early Warnings for All Initiative, relevant national health authorities, and relevant WMO research and programmes.
There is mounting concern about the impact of extreme temperatures, drought, flooding and storms both on public health (injury and death, disease outbreaks, malnutrition) and on health infrastructure. Air pollution, including sand and dust and environmentally transported chemicals, add to the health burden.
“The health community urgently needs tailored information,” said Dr Joy Shumake Guillemot, who heads the joint WMO-World Health Organization (WHO) Office on Climate and Health.
In its Sixth Assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report stresses the need for transformational changes to health systems and proactive, timely and effective adaptation can reduce and potentially avoid many risks for human health and well-being.
Huge strides have been made in recent years to protect public health through a wide array of measures. These include:
Heat-health early warnings and action plans
Seasonal forecasts on temperatures and rainfall which allow the health sector to plan ahead, including for water-borne diseases and malnutrition
Air quality and UV advisories and warnings
Congress endorsed a 2023–2033 Implementation Plan for Advancing Climate, Environment and Health Science and Services.
The ten-year plan aims to achieve “better health and well-being for people facing existing and emerging extreme weather events, climate change, and environmental risks through the effective integration of climate, environment and health science and services across the world.”
This promotes a coordinated approach to manage the impact of climate, weather, air pollution, UV radiation, extreme events and other environmental factors on health.
WMO and WHO, through the joint Climate and Health Office, have a growing number of joint technical activities, including the establishment of a new ClimaHealth portal which is a one stop shop for information on climate and health.
Speakers in the Congress session voiced particular concern about the increase in climate-related diseases like malaria and dengue fever as well as extreme heat, which is also closely associated with wildfire, and air quality related health risks.
Hundreds of millions of people are experiencing more frequent and intense heatwaves that are starting earlier and ending later than in the past. Extreme heat is thus a focus area of the UN Early Warnings for All initiative and for climate adaptation strategies because early warnings and heat-health action plans have a proven track record in saving countless lives.
Heat action plans incorporate early warning, preparedness strategies, and response systems to protect both urban and rural areas. They can help coordinate efforts across government and civil society to protect both the general population and vulnerable groups such as the elderly. They have been successfully rolled out in many regions of the world – by developed and developing countries alike. Thus, for instance, India and Pakistan have successfully reduced mortality rates through coordinated heat action plans.
WMO is a co-sponsor of the Global Heat Health Information Network, alongside WHO and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This seeks to increase awareness and capacity to better manage and adapt to the health risks of dangerously hot weather in a changing climate.