20 May 2018

Report links health to climate change

9:56 pm on 20 May 2018

Climate change could massively impact the health sector, according to a new report.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

The report by the Environment and Science Research Institute (ESR) outlined the possible effects on human health, as a result of extreme weather, air pollution and UV radiation.

ESR spokesperson Chris Nokes said climate change meant new diseases could arrive in New Zealand.

"Parts of New Zealand are too cold to support certain species of mosquito that may carry diseases we presently regard as being more tropical, but with all of the country becoming warmer it increases the possibility of those mosquitos finding a habitat, and bringing those diseases with them," he said.

The report, commissioned by the Ministry of Health, reviewed international and domestic research to consider what health effects may present over the next 50 to 100 years.

It is the first of its kind in New Zealand.

The report broke down the effects of climate change and looked at what health effects could then arise.

Dr Nokes said extreme weather and rising temperatures could bring drought causing wildfires and water contamination or shortage.

Storms and heavy rain could also affect water quality and flooding - particularly affecting the health of those living in low-lying coastal areas.

But, extreme weather could also bring benefits.

"It could perhaps decrease death rates over winter for elderly or people more vulnerable to colder temperatures," he said.

The other consideration was a breakdown of the ozone layer and less cloud coverage, exposing New Zealanders to higher levels of UV radiation from the sun.

Dr Nokes said too much exposure to UV radiation was unhealthy, but so was too little.

"As people are trying to stay out of the sun to avoid the increased UV radiation then there's the potential for Vitamin D deficiency."

"A number of these effects are two edged swords in many respects."

Dr Nokes said the link between climate change and health was not discussed enough.

"It's surprising that the connection hasn't been made more, because we all live in the environment and changes to that environment are potentially going to have effects on us.

"It's fairly certain that the more we start looking at the overall impacts or expected effects of climate change we're going to need to understand what those effects will be for humans trying to exist in this changing environment."

The Ministry of Health was working with ESR to develop a plan.