Indian Children Will Face Lifelong Health Issues Due to Climate Change, Says Lancet Report
A child born today will have to cope with long-lasting ill health caused by climate change, according to the 2019 Lancet Countdown on health and climate change — a yearly report that tracks 41 key indicators related to the health impact of climate change.
According to the report, India faced a significant increase in population exposure to wildfires recorded at more than 21 million — the most in the world. India also faced a series of heatwaves, which affected 45 million people. For Indian children, who are already coping with dangerously poor air quality, malnutrition via drought, heatstrokes, and flooding, this report predicts more health-related struggles to come.
“Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants,” Dr. Nick Watts, the executive director of The Lancet Countdown, said in a statement. “The damage done in early childhood is persistent and pervasive, with health consequences lasting for a lifetime. Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in wellbeing and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation.”
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The report states that children born today will grow up in a world 4 degrees Celsius warmer than it was during the Industrial Revolution. This will shape human health from infancy to old age — high crop prices due to diminished harvests will make food scarcer and lead to malnutrition. 69% of the almost-9 lakh deaths of Indian children in 2018 were caused by malnutrition.
Bacteria responsible for diarrhea and cholera will proliferate, and so will dengue mosquitoes — causing diseases that affect children most severely. 321 Indian children under five died daily due to diarrhea in 2015 and 188,401 people died of dengue in 2017 — a decade-high increase by 300%. Though India has managed to reduce cholera outbreaks in the country, the report states that climate suitability for the Vibrio cholerae bacteria has risen by 3% since 1980, signaling a potential outbreak.
From adolescence to adulthood, children will also breathe in more toxic air due to increased pollution caused by fossil fuel emissions, and worsened by global warming, causing poor lung function, asthma and increased risks of heart attack and stroke. 350,000 children in India were reported asthmatic due to nitrogen dioxide, which is a traffic-related polluter according to a 2018 Lancet report.
“The climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to the health of humanity today, but the world has yet to see a response from governments that matches the unprecedented scale of the challenge facing the next generation. With the full force of the Paris Agreement due to be implemented in 2020, we can’t afford this level of disengagement. The clinical, global health and research community needs to come together now and challenge our international leaders to protect the imminent threat to childhood and lifelong health,” Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said in a statement.