Well-planned adaptation measures can reduce climate-related health risks

Woman fetches water from polluted source

Climate change and variability pose serious threats to people’s health. By anticipating the adverse effects of climate change on health and taking appropriate actions, health systems and communities can adapt to the effects of climate change. Well-planned and timely adaptation measures can avert or minimise many of the existing and projected climate-related health impacts.

Health adaptation measures can range from improved disease surveillance to changes in water storage practices

Climate-related adaptation measures in the health sector take diverse forms, depending on the particular risks in a given country or region and the available resources and capacities. Very often, health staff need to receive additional training in the monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of climate-sensitive diseases. Health infrastructure may need to be modified to ensure the continued provision of health services during floods or prolonged dry spells. Adaptation measures should also focus on building community resilience by increasing people’s awareness of climate-related health risks and empowering them to take appropriate actions. This could include adjustments to local infrastructure, such as latrines and water storage systems, to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases or improved vector control to prevent the rise of climate-sensitive diseases like malaria or dengue.

Adaptation measures can vary with the stage of the adaptation process

The focus of health adaptation measures not only depends on the particular climate-related health risk in a country or region, but also on the extent to which it has already been mainstreamed into health planning processes. If awareness of the impact of climate change on health is still relatively low, advocacy among policy and decision-makers and support to integrate climate change into health policy and planning can be important entry points for the adaptation process in the health sector. In a setting where a health adaptation plan has already been developed at national level, support for its implementation in a pilot region and capacity building for health authorities at a decentralised level may be more appropriate.

Intersectoral cooperation can create synergies and avoid adverse health effects

While most adaptation to climate-related health risks takes place in the health sector, intersectoral cooperation is also important. Urban development programmes, for example, can mitigate the negative effects of extreme weather events by planning storm shelters or developing early warning systems. Collaboration with the agricultural sector can minimise the risk of food-borne diseases and malnutrition. Intersectoral cooperation and integrated adaptation planning are also essential to ensure that the policies and programmes developed in other sectors do not inadvertently cause harm or contribute to adverse health effects.

The health sector needs to be involved in the national adaptation planning process

National Adaptation Plans (NAP), which are developed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are vital to ensure successful adaptation. During the NAP process governments identify a country’s medium- and long-term adaptation needs and outline strategies and programmes to address those needs. The aim of the NAP process is to mainstream adaptation to climate change into different sectors. To effectively protect people’s health it is important to link this process with strategic planning, budgeting, and actions in the health sector. Each NAP should anticipate health-related aspects of climate change. This facilitates the health sector’s access to available resources for implementation of adaptation measures.

Projects supported by German Development Cooperation pilot and document promising adaptation approaches

In most countries, adaptation to climate-related health risks is still in early stages. German Development Cooperation has supported projects in selected countries to pilot promising adaptation measures and to share experiences with a wider audience. Significant time and resources were invested in the development phase of each project to ensure country ownership and stakeholder engagement. The starting point for many adaptation projects was a Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment which identified adaptation needs and potentials.

Further Reading: WHO Operational Framework for Building Climate Resilient Health Systems

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