Conferences Connect the Climate-Health Dots

Poster at Colloquim
Credit: Kim Knowlton

Co-authored by Jessica Korsh

As the health impacts of climate change become more and more evident on a daily basis, several dozen leading researchers from public health and climate science gathered at the Health and Climate Colloquium 2016, June 8-10th.

The three-day Colloquium, jointly organized by the Mailman School of Public Health and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, fosters the urgent need for interdisciplinary research and education in climate and health. At the Colloquium, Keith Hansen of the World Bank stated, “We need to train a new generation of decision makers who are as comfortable with climate data as they are with epidemiologic data. We have to build bridges between our meteorological experts and health, agriculture, and disaster planners.  In short, we need more climate in health, and more health in climate”.  

Also at the Colloquium, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) work on developing extreme heat preparedness plans for cities in India, including Ahmedabad, was highlighted in presentations, posters, and in an upcoming World Health Organization (WHO) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) publication on climate resilience case studies globally. Dr. Kim Knowlton discussed the NRDC’s collaboration with Ahmedabad to address heat wave preparedness and resilience. “What is sometimes known as the silent killer—heat-related illness and mortality—was not so silent anymore,” said Knowlton in reference to a 2010 heat wave in Ahmedabad. “People were dying in the streets”. Following this wake-up call, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation worked with the NRDC and other partners like the Indian Institute of Public Health, to create and pilot a heat action plan (HAP) that included an early warning system, the first of its kind in South Asia.

A devastating heat wave in 2010 in Ahmedabad was associated with over 1,300 excess premature deaths. Ahmedabad was hit by heat waves again in 2014 and 2015. Temperatures reached 46⁰C, but the corresponding spike in death counts in the city was far lower. Ahmedabad observed that after the implementation of the HAP, there has been a substantial reduction in overall mortality on peak heat days, compared to the 2010 heat wave.

Ahmedabad newspaper
Credit: Abhiyant Tiwari

Now in its fourth year of implementation, Ahmedabad’s HAP was again put to the test this spring when temperatures soared to record-breaking highs across India. This spring, Phalodi, Rajasthan reached 51⁰C (123.8⁰F), the country’s highest temperature ever. Last year in a 2015 heat wave, 2,500 people died across India, Ahmedabad reported fewer than 15 heat-related deaths—a number that city officials suggest is due to better preparation.  Building on the success in Ahmedabad, three regions spanning ten cities in India have now launched HAPs.

Many of the researches and experts at the Colloquium will gather again next week at the Second Global Conference on Health and Climate: Building Healthier Societies through implementation of the Paris Agreement, July 7 and 8 in Paris. Ahmedabad’s HAP will be one of the examples featured in The Climate Services for Health Case Study Project. The Conference’s mission is to establish healthier and more sustainable societies. The COP21 Paris Agreement, commits countries to strengthen adaptation, which incentivizes plans that "protect human health from the worst impacts of climate change, such as air pollution, heat waves, floods and droughts, and the ongoing degradation of water resources and food security."   

The Conference, organized by the WHO and WMO, will showcase how the public health community will support the implementation of the Paris agreement. Since 2014, WMO has partnered with the WHO via the Joint Office for Climate and Health, because "human health and the wellbeing of individuals and communities are closely linked with weather and climate conditions."

Climate health scientists and leaders can’t come soon enough for the planet or its people, as climate change is an emergency today, and will continue to affect us all. The Paris Conference next week will unite world leaders concerned about increasing climate-health resilience for communities everywhere, as we continue to connect the climate-health dots.   

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