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Climate change threatens health in East Med

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A study published in the scientific journal ‘Environmental Research’ presents the first comprehensive review of how climate change impacts people’s health in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) region.

It identifies climate-induced challenges relating to extreme heat, water scarcity and air pollution as serious threats.

It draws links between climate change and changes in the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases and the health of the displaced population.

The study, which involved an international group of researchers under the coordination of the Cyprus Institute, focuses specifically on the EMME region that is recognised as a global climate change hotspot.

Based on a revision of scientific literature, it concludes that with immediate action to avert current climate trajectories, temperatures in several cities around the Persian Gulf could reach the limits suitable for human survival by 2100.

In addition, all countries in the Middle East could see their groundwater reserves depleted by 2050, leading to failures in agricultural production, food insecurity, and increased health problems associated with consuming contaminated water.

A combination of worsening environmental conditions (including warming weather, water shortage and deforestation) is also predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of dust storms, increasing the risk of hospitalisation and death.

It is estimated that up to 1 million people die prematurely each year in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean due to air pollution.

The study predicts that the growing urbanisation rates, the prevalence of urban heat islands, and human-induced emissions (particularly from burning fossil fuels) will result in excess morbidity and mortality in the EMME region.

Climatic factors and human health are closely linked in complex ways.

The impacts of climate change on human health can be both direct and indirect, and a variety of biological, ecological, and socio-political factors, such as age, gender, location, socioeconomic status, occupation, and underlying health conditions, further compounds these.

For example, a combination of ecological and socioeconomic factors in the EMME region creates appropriate conditions for the local transmission of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis and West Nile fever.

Because most of the climate-related factors that impact human health cannot be contained by national boundaries, the authors conclude that any actions must have a regional scope, stressing the need for coordination among the EMME nations.

We make specific policy recommendations on how to approach this.

In addition to calling for a decisive movement towards decarbonisation, we make recommendations for specific adaptation actions.

Importantly, we stress the need for additional research to understand better the health challenges posed by climate change in the region, as well as the establishment of a regional hub that will collate, integrate and analyse environmentally-driven health data.

The study was commissioned by the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME-CCI, emme-cci.org).

The Cyprus Institute coordinated the initiative’s scientific component, which brought together more than 240 scientists from the EMME region and produced 11 studies with different thematic foci (https://emme-cci.org/scientific-task-forces/).

This initiative aims to develop a joint Regional Climate Action Plan to address the specific needs, and challenges EMME countries are facing and advance coordinated action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Sharm-el-Sheikh Declaration of the EMME-CCI was adopted by 10 countries of the EMME in a dedicated Summit on 8 November 2022 at COP27.

By Dr Marco Neira, Associate Research Scientist at the Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre of the Cyprus Institute
[email protected]

Original Publication: Neira M, Erguler K, Ahmady-Birgani H, DaifAllah AL-Hmoud N, Fears R, Gogos C, et al. Climate change and human health in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East: Literature review, research priorities and policy suggestions.

Environ Res. 2023 Jan 1; 216:114537. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2022.114537.