Climate change to cause more deaths: report

2013-06-17 07:26:23 GMT2013-06-17 15:26:23(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

SYDNEY, June 17 (Xinhua) -- The cost of climate change on human health has Monday been hit home with a report by the Australian Climate Commission outlining the serious threat of extreme weather.

According to the report, heat causes more deaths than any other type of extreme weather event in Australia, and the country's hottest days are still getting hotter.

"Climate change is a serious threat to our health with the elderly, the very young, rural and indigenous communities and those with pre-existing medical conditions being particularly vulnerable," said Dimity Williams, general practitioner and spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA).

According to the report, the duration and frequency of heatwaves has been increasing and is projected to continue to do so in the future -- posing risks for Australians and putting additional pressure on health services.

"During a heatwave our body is placed under extreme stress and we can experience lethargy and heatstroke, with heart attack and even death effecting vulnerable people.

"During the 2009 heatwave in Victoria there were 374 excess deaths and a surge in demand for ambulance and emergency care," said Williams.

Climate change may also lead to various other health consequences for Australians and the global population.

Changes in temperature and rainfall may allow mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever to spread south in Australia, and air quality may also be affected worldwide with increased concentrations of ozone, fine particles and dust.

"Climate change will have far reaching consequences for health and will also lead to increases in certain types of air pollutants as well as airborne allergens like pollen. These have serious impacts on lung diseases like asthma and on heart disease," Williams said.

"As a GP who has many patients with asthma I am concerned that climate change will mean an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks for my patients," she added.

Climate change and extreme weather are also reported to lead to mental health issues, with increased depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide and self-harm -- as seen in the wake of recent natural disasters in Australia.

Western Australian GP George Crisp added, "we are already seeing increasing mental health problems from the impacts of extreme weather events and changing rainfall patterns particularly in rural communities and in younger people."

The Climate Commission has previously announced that 2011-2020 is the critical decade for tackling climate change -- particularly for turning around rising emissions of greenhouse gases and stabilising the climate system.

"Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment, " said Chief Commissioner Tim Flannery in a statement.

"Protecting the community means strong preventative action through deep and swift cuts in emissions this decade, to stabilise the climate and halt the trend toward more intense extreme weather, " he added.

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