Recognised by the World Health Organization, as one of the greatest threats to human health and the environment, climate change can affect safe drinking water, secure shelter, sufficient food and shelter in the Caribbean region. Climate change is driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities of burning oil and gas. This traps the sun’s energy in the air and is causing global warming and rising sea levels, with projections of a 2 metre or 6 foot rise in sea levels by 2100. This has profound implications for the Caribbean, made up of most small island and low lying coastal states (SIDS). The increasing frequency and strength of hurricanes, and widespread coral bleaching, floods and droughts are symptoms of the problem.
While emissions of greenhouse gases from the Caribbean region are negligible, globally they are driving regional climate change and rise of sea levels. Witness the record 2005 floods in Guyana with major infrastructure damage, to the longest-lived Hurricane ever, Matthew, which last year affected many Caribbean countries, especially Haiti. This threatens the existence of several small islands and countries with low lying coasts.
To address the public health issues related to the anticipated climate change in the Caribbean region, an Expert Panel was kicked off by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in collaboration with Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The meeting took place at the Guyana Marriott Hotel Georgetown.
“The many connections between climate change and health and the profound implications of the change for Caribbean countries for food and water security, proliferation of climate-sensitive vectors of disease, extreme weather events make the work of this Expert Panel extremely important to develop a roadmap on Climate Change and Health for countries, regional institution and international partners. It is consistent with the leadership role CARICOM countries have played in the global climate change negotiations,” said Dr. C. James Hospedales, CARPHA Executive Director.
“The health of communities is inextricably linked to the health of the environment. Our communities in the Caribbean will be disproportionately impacted by Climate Change, hence we need to integrate our assets and urgently address our gaps to become climate change resilient”, said Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, Professor and Chair of the Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who co-chairs the expert panel with Dr. Hospedales.
Panel member Georges Benjamin, President of the American Public Health Association said, “We need to make people realise that climate change is happening now, and that the public health community had a responsibility to help shift the dialogue from abstract to concrete and to point out that it’s the most vulnerable communities that suffer most."
Panel member Dr David Johnson of Dominica, said, “When you think about it, all the pathways in which climate change is adversely affecting us plays out in damage to human health and well-being."
The multi-sectoral panel with regional and international experts is tasked with developing a Caribbean-wide roadmap on climate change and health to analyse, control and where possible, prevent the impact on human health and the environment.
The meeting took place on the eve of CARPHA’s 62nd Health Research Conference, discussed the groundwork for strategic priorities as pillars of the roadmap and strategies to identify financial support, while assuring that all stakeholders are engaged.
The final roadmap will be presented at the 2018 CARPHA Conference.