Act now to counter the effects of climate change, ministers told

News release

Madang, Papua New Guinea, 7 July 2009 — Decisive action has to be taken now to assist Pacific Island countries and territories to cope with the negative effects of climate change, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a meeting here today.

The island nations, already facing serious economic and health challenges, have to be equipped with the skills and tools needed to minimize the negative impacts of global warming on health and livelihood, the meeting of Pacific Island Ministers of Health was told.

Climate change is among the key issues being discussed at the 7–9 July gathering, which is drawing up and implementing strategic plans to control and prevent escalating health consequences for the region. The meeting, the eighth since 1995, is in line with continuing efforts to improve people’s health in Pacific Island nations.

The low-lying nature of some Pacific Island countries and territories makes them especially vulnerable to climate change. The damaging features of projected changes in climate include a rise in sea levels, greater frequency and intensity of floods and droughts and more powerful cyclones. Such changes pose enormous challenges for societies in the Pacific. In almost all countries and territories, critical facilities — housing, power-generating stations, schools, banks, hospitals and clinics, airports, business districts — are located in coastal areas exposed to severe climate events. At greatest risk, experts say, are Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu.

In addition, many studies have noted that the projected impact of climate change on health, such as vector-borne diseases, waterborne and food-borne diseases, drowning and injuries, and food security and malnutrition, as well as clean water supplies, will jeopardize economic stability and Islanders’ livelihoods and lifestyles.

SPC, with WHO and other partner agencies, has been working with member countries and territories to help develop national and regional capacity to implement the Regional Framework for Action to Protect Human Health from the Effects of Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific Region and the multisectoral Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change in a coordinated way to adapt to the consequences of climate change.

However, the ability of some countries to cope with potentially increasing levels of risk and disease related to climate change is limited, particularly in developing and small island countries. This is the time for action, the meeting was told. These actions include:

  • multisectoral mobilization;
  • more effective early warning and surveillance systems to facilitate improved detection of, and response to, climate-related health risks;
  • effective health education programmes;
  • strengthened and secure health care infrastructures;
  • tested disaster preparedness plans;
  • crop and aquaculture adaptation strategies to ensure food and nutritional security and access to healthy food;
  • information/communication strategies and social mobilization; and
  • safe drinking water, proper sewage and solid waste management.

For more information, please contact: Mr Wu Guogao, WHO External Relations Office, at +72024135, email: wug@wpro.who.int Ms Lara Studzinski, Acting Coordinator, Health Management Team, Public Health Division, Secretariat of the Pacific Community — in Madang until 9 July, ph: +675 852 2655; email: LaraS@spc.int

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