Climate change is having a profound effect on the frequency and severity of natural disasters and extreme weather events. Globally, the number of weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in low-income countries. As this week marks the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), we’re urging world leaders to take urgent action to address the global health crisis emerging from climate change.

At IHP, we see the impact that climate change is having on people’s health, especially on those who were already vulnerable because of a lack of access to medicine. When the flooding or the hurricanes hit, the poorest communities feel it the most. With no water, food or medicines, treatable diseases such as cholera or diarrhoea become a deadly risk and the impact is huge.

People like Loyce, whose son became ill after they were forced to live outside when her house collapsed after Cyclone Idai. Her neighbour Lucia suffered terribly from palpitations but couldn’t access medicines from the local government storage. Fortunately, they were able to access medicines from IHP.

Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The impacts are already harming health through air pollution, disease, extreme weather events, forced displacement, food insecurity and pressures on mental health. Every year, environmental factors take the lives of around 13 million people.

World Health Organization.

In the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, rescue and relief efforts can be hampered by more extreme weather as was the case following the recent earthquake in Haiti. A tropical storm battered the area just days after the quake, leading to flooding and delaying critically needed medical help from reaching the area.

Global heating is compounding threats for people already living with conflict and insecurity, further driving displacement around the world. This mass people movement will put massive strains on already weakened health services and may mean that people cannot access the healthcare they need.

The climate crisis is also a justice issue – it's impacts disproportionately affect those already burdened by poverty. They suffer the harshest consequences, while having the least ability to cope. So as the crisis escalates, millions of people who already struggle to secure a decent livelihood, or get basic medical help, could be plunged into further poverty.

As the number of disasters increases, so too will the number of deaths and long-term health implications. It is predicted that climate change will be responsible for approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

This is just a snapshot of the kind of health risks the world faces as a result of climate change, with those already lacking access to medicine the most vulnerable. Unless drastic action is taken, the consequences, not just on our planet and environment, but on our health too, will be devastating.