November Cool Drinks: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health

November Cool Drinks: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health
November 30, 2014 No Comments » News & Views, Uncategorized James Bell

At our final Cool Drinks of 2014, our speakers introduced us to the main health risks from climate change, which members of the population are most vulnerable, and current strategies being implemented to mitigate and adapt to specific health related impacts. Highlights of the event are provided below. If you are interested in further info, each speaker’s presentations are available at www.coolnorthshore.ca/learn.

Tim Takaro, Professor at Simon Fraser University

According to Dr. Takaro, the rise in temperature, sea level and extreme precipitation events will lead to the urban heat island effect, more air pollution and aeroallergens, vector and water borne diseases, and changes in water resources and food supplies. As a result, citizens could face cardiorespiratory failure and a higher number of respiratory diseases; experience malaria, dengue fever or encephalitis; be exposed to cholera, cyclospora or cryptosporidiosis; and suffer from malnutrition and diarrhea. Climate change will also create environmental refugees in parts of the world. Forced migrations could lead to overcrowding, infectious diseases and physical conflicts where they move to.

Certain demographic groups or geographic locations will be more vulnerable to these health hazards. For example, seniors, children and low income populations are more at risk from extreme heat plus illnesses from pollution and aeroallergens. Meanwhile, coastal and riverine communities will be more threatened by flooding, sea level rise, storm surges and landslides. In contrast, rural towns with drier conditions and excess deadwood could experience cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses from forest fires.

Mark Lysyshyn, Medical Health Officer at Vancouver Coastal Health

Following Tim’s introduction, Dr. Lysyshyn provided examples of strategies being instituted locally to address certain health impacts. To respond to extreme heat events, heat alert systems have been developed. When temperatures surpass 34 C and Environment Canada releases warnings, municipalities activate hot weather response plans, which includes opening cooling centres and water stations as well as offering the general public ideas on how the survive the extreme temperature. Similar to heat, forest fire and smoke surveillance systems have been established throughout the province in order to stop them quickly, and therefore minimize respiratory illnesses in nearby communities.

As the century progresses, the number of extreme precipitation weeks per year is expected to rise to 2-3 weeks, which could result in a greater number of gastrointestinal illnesses. The Fraser Health Authority already counted nearly 270 per year in the first decade of the 21st C. Risks are higher in municipal drinking water systems than others and in Metro Vancouver according to a recent study. Improvements to water treatment systems, such as the recent upgrades to the Seymour Capilano Water Filtration Plant, can help to reduce these health risks.

Another way to limit health impacts from climate change and mitigate this environmental concern is to create a healthy built environment. Vancouver Coastal Health is currently collaborating with local governments on the North Shore to make sure community planning takes this into account. Five planning principles are advocated: 1) healthy neighbourhood design; 2) healthy transportation networks; 3) healthy natural environments; 4) healthy food systems; and 5) healthy housing.

Suzanne Smith, Planner with the City of North Vancouver

In her presentation, Suzanne elaborated on the final concept introduced by Mark. A health and climate change lens has been infused into this city’s latest Official Community Plan, which was released in 2014. Other policies, plans and by laws will help to implement the OCP. This long range plan continues to focus on the city’s tradition of creating a compact, walkable city where homes are located near work, transit, amenities and social activities. The plan also emphasizes enhancing active and public transportation, increasing food security through urban agriculture, improving solid waste management, expanding the Lonsdale Energy Corporation to increase district energy use, applying a green zoning bylaw to raise the number of green buildings, implementing the Climate Adaptation Plan, and creating an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan. Many of these initiatives are already in progress.

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