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Debilitating Effects of Climate Change on Healthcare Managament

by Jeanna Carter

While climate change has always been one of the primary concerns in conservation programs, however the cataclysmic changes are now causing concerns among healthcare management colleges. Patterns of pandemic illnesses after natural disasters have managed to make many bad situations much worse and much more enduring.

In 2010, the year a catastrophic magnitude-7 earthquake devastated Haiti, that country reported 179,379 cases of cholera. By comparison, the United States reported 15 cases that year, all imported. The United Kingdom reported eight. Ireland, Israel and Italy were among the many countries reporting no cholera cases at all.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. It is not at all an unexpected disease in a country reporting more than 200,000 deaths from an earthquake. Drawing a line connecting the disease with the earthquake is easy. More difficult is linking the earthquake to climate change.

Many scientists believe that the warming of the planet is largely responsible not only for devastating droughts and floods around the world, but also destructive tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes. As documented in Haiti, storms and changed weather patterns can have profound effects on disease outbreak and control. Examples like this are prompting scientists to broaden their understanding of climate change and what it means to human health worldwide.

Most climate change specialists agree that global warming is affecting far more than just weather patterns and storm systems. Public health in developing countries is taking a turn for the worse that is strikingly proportional to shifts in climate and temperature, many say. They connect the dots this way: Masses of ice are melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Sea levels rise as a result of the ice melting.

This results in changes in precipitation, meaning drought in some areas, flooding in others. In droughts, people become weak and more susceptible to infection. In floods, water-borne illnesses can travel much faster, and high humidity tends to aid in disease incubation and virus reproduction.  Heat waves and more intense storms and hurricanes may also result, causing still more carnage and possibilities for health catastrophe. On top of this, exploding populations and more manufacturing creates poorer air quality to begin with–which only complicates matters.

A National Institutes of Health report on climate changes highlights 11 human health categories affected by a climate shifts:

1. Asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases
2. Cancer
3. Cardiovascular disease and stroke
4. Foodborne disease and nutrition
5. Heat-related morbidity and mortality
6. Human developmental effects
7. Mental health and stress-related disorders
8. Neurological diseases and disorders
9. Vector borne and zoonotic diseases
10. Waterborne diseases
11. Weather-related morbidity and mortality

Many current studies about climate change focus on diseases and disasters in developing countries. Studying human health is far more involved than studying weather patterns, as it is complicated by the complexities of politics and cultures, the differences within and between regions of the world, and the ability of stable governments to adapt quickly to potential threats. In the United States, for example, the effects of climate change vary from region to region. Also, the passage of time often gives the perception that a weather pattern has fixed itself. Heavy rainfall tends to only last in one place for a short while, for instance. Heat waves might hit Northern California one year and Chicago the next.

Still, scientists focusing on the United States note that the heat accompanying droughts is more intense today than in the past. The modern-day drought also lasts longer than ever before, affecting agriculture and creating other health-related issues. Experts point to life-threatening flooding during storms and the increasing intensity and devastation of tornadoes and hurricanes as support.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2007 that climate-related health impacts will increase globally during this century. Countries with developed health care might be masking the true effects, however. Good health care is essential to preventing massive outbreaks or epidemics, but it can only treat the symptoms–not cure the cause. Says the Intergovernmental Panel, “the quality of medical care and public health systems in the United States may lessen climate impacts on human health.” Just because direct results cannot always be seen does not mean that the changes are any less real, however.

Silence is not an option.

Traveling food

The drive up to Soller from Palma isn’t too long, but tracing through the Mallorcan mountains made for a windy ride. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in a James Bond film, cruising through the Mediterranean with the mountains on the right, ocean on the left.

We parked the car and did a quick walk through the town, which was lined with oranges that had at least one leaf attached to each golden orb. The orange and lemon trees were everywhere – backyards, streets and groves, all leading up to the ferrocarril line to Port de Sóller. The magical tram ride brought us to a bright blue cove against a backdrop of Mallorca’s green hills. It was stunning.

I pulled out an orange from my bag, knowing for sure that this was a moment worth remembering. I knew that the orange I was peeling was probably the best I will ever have in my life. I tried to memorize every note my taste buds were sending to my brain as each pulp burst in my mouth.

We took a couple oranges for our travels, and it was only a matter of two days that the pores started growing little mouldy dots. The best food does not travel well and is most magical when set against the backdrop of its natural habitat.

Until the next time I visit Soller, that will have been the first and last time I have ever eaten an orange.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing The Way We Feed Cities

The sustainability movement encompasses a great number of issues; Renewable Energy, Marine Preservation, and Agriculture, among others. It’s always been difficult to convey the urgency of these issues to the general public who don’t yet experience the adverse effects. However, we’ve found that the easiest way to make the sustainability movement resound in people’s minds is through food. Passed around the dinner table, enjoyed over meaningful conversations, and for many of us (whether we like to admit it or not), the first and last thing we think of everyday. Food is a religion, and has been bringing cultures and peoples together for as long as we can remember. Food is also a massively significant part of the sustainability movement. Fact: 50% of our ecological footprint comes from meat. Even more eye-opening: a meat-eating cyclist has a larger ecological footprint than a vegetarian Hummer owner.

With food as my religion, I dragged myself from the leathery recesses of the couch to Peter Ladner’s “The Urban Food Revolution: Changing The Way We Feed Cities” book launch on Commercial Drive. He presented some of the book’s most significant ideas, and afterwards, held a short Q&A. Inspired is a meager word to express what I felt last night. Here are some of the ideas he presented, some of which already exist, others of which are in the works.

How can we farm in an urban environment? Because of the lack of farmable areas in their immediate environments, urban farmers are finding ways to maximize space through innovative new farming methods. One such way is Aquaponics, a system devised to maximize space and resources. The Aquaponics system is composed of a small fishpond, on top of which hangs a rack of vegetable plants. The water from the fishpond is funneled upwards to water the plants, which contain natural fertilizers from the fish. Plants absorb the water, and the surplus cascades back down to the fish. The cycle goes on, and water is added to the system as needed. Off-shelf Aquaponics systems are being made available to the public.

Another innovative way involves the workplace. Some have collaborated with their employers to house rooftop gardens on their buildings. Grocery stores have also jumped in, planting vegetable gardens on their rooftops, which directly and efficiently answer questions of supply and distribution.  Mobile and pocket farmers markets are popping up even in the busiest sections of the downtown core. There are many people championing the urban farming cause, but we need many more.

How do we involve people in the urban farming movement? There are many opportunities being made available to people of all ages. The annual Pemberton Slow Food bike tour is one, and it promises to “Blow the fast food competition away”. This agritourism event has grown considerably, with around 4,000 cyclists touring the farms and experiencing the food Pemberton Valley has to offer. Some schools have integrated food literacy into their programs, hosting garden plots on-campus to encourage community building and learning in children.

The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is a great organization that houses a food bank, produce market, and artist centre, among others. Its programs include sustainable food systems education, agriculture, and community cooking.

What can the urban food revolution do for us? Peter mentioned a study that used good food as a crime prevention tool. Sound unrealistic? Not so. The study was conducted in the downtown Eastside, where they started distributing good, fresh produce through the food banks. Consequently, they noticed that crime and 911 calls dissipated substantially; after some time, emergency calls whittled down to almost none. It’s not such a surprise; healthier people have healthier dispositions. There is less room for aggravation, fighting, and crime. At the same time, governments can spend less on emergency or crime facilities and channel the money into green job creation.

Better food almost immediately equates to better health. A long-term goal in the urban food revolution is to lower government healthcare expenditures. The urban food revolution and all its supporting facilities could also increase the aesthetic and subsequent property value of homes and neighborhoods. It’s a win-win situation. However, we never said it was going to be easy.

What the urban food revolution needs to succeed: Local doesn’t automatically mean sustainable. It may actually be more sustainable to import rice from China because they have a larger agricultural capacity (better conditions, more facilities) in place. As a result, we need to figure out which food our area is at a capacity to produce while contributing least to our carbon footprint. We also need to consider factors other than carbon or GHG’s—factors like water and land pollution carry a lot of weight.

We need local processing facilities, as well as optimized distribution systems in order to be truly sustainable. We’re hoping that these systems will be just as innovative and resourceful as those of supply. The most important thing we need to achieve all this however, is a change in perception and a call to action.

Click here for more information on Peter Ladner’s book “The Urban Food Revolution: Changing The Way We Feed Cities”. If you’d like to take a stand, volunteer for RangiChangi Roots by clicking on the “Get Involved” tab on our homepage .

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