, November 27, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Global warming will put millions more people at risk of malaria and dengue fever -- also known as "breakbone fever" because it is so painful -- according to a United Nations report that calls for an urgent review of the health dangers posed by climate change.]

By Jason Gale and Bill Varner

Global warming will put millions more people at risk of malaria and dengue fever, according to a United Nations report that calls for an urgent review of the health dangers posed by climate change.

Increases in rainfall, temperature and humidity will favor the spread of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes over a wider range and to higher altitudes, according to the 2007-2008 Human Development Report, released today. That could put 220 million to 400 million additional people at greater risk of the disease that kills about 1 million a year, mostly in Africa.

"Ill health is one of the most powerful forces holding back the human development potential of poor households," the report said. "Climate change will intensify the problem."

The 384-page report commissioned by the UN Development Program was released a week before delegates to a UN-sponsored conference on Bali, Indonesia, will try to convince the U.S. to join a new emissions- limiting treaty that will pick up after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol ends.

Droughts, floods and storms will worsen unless measures are taken to cut emissions in half by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, the report said. About 262 million people were affected by climate disasters from 2000 to 2004, most of them in developing countries.

Changes in weather patterns may also increase the number of people exposed to dengue fever to 3.5 billion from 1.5 billion by 2080. The potentially lethal viral disease, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, is found at higher elevations in previously dengue-free areas of Latin America, the report said.

Dengue Fever

"A major public health threat is coming from the vector- borne diseases that depend on temperature and on humidity," said Martin Krause, UNDP's Bangkok-based technical adviser on climate change for the Asia-Pacific region. "Occurrences of malaria and dengue fever in communities" traditionally unaffected by these diseases would place an additional strain on public health services, he said.

Developed countries are also at risk. Heat waves in U.S. cities may double by 2050, prompting more sickness from dehydration and heat stroke, particularly in the elderly. Illnesses such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease may also increase because of climate change.

World temperatures have increased by about 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) since industrialization intensified the use of coal and other carbon-emitting sources of fuel, according to the report.

Rising Temperatures

Rising temperatures are causing Arctic ice to melt, rain to decline in parts of Africa and the Mediterranean, and sea levels to rise, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said on Nov. 17 in its fourth report of the year. Global warming may continue for centuries, and governments will have to spend billions of dollars a year to slow climate change and adapt to its effects, the panel said.

Technologies are available to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and more political action is needed to achieve reductions, according to the panel, which shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The report released today ranks 177 nations in a Human Development Index combining statistics for life expectancy, adult literacy and per-capita income. Iceland ranked first, displacing Norway after six years on top of the UN ranking. Norway, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Netherlands and France completed the top 10. The U.S. dropped to 12th place from seventh last year.

Droughts, Floods

All of the 21 nations at the bottom of this year's index are in sub- Saharan Africa, where the UN said drought could expand arid areas by as much as 350,000 square miles (about 900,000 square kilometers) and cost $26 billion in crop failures by 2060. At the same time, the lives of 70 million people in Bangladesh, 6 million in Egypt and 22 million in Vietnam are being altered by the threat of flooding, the UN said.

Key recommendations in the report include a new framework for mitigating the threat of climate change and strengthening cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The report estimates about $86 billion in new and additional funding is required by 2015 to "climate-proof" development investments, strengthen national strategies for poverty reduction and to assist disaster and post-disaster recovery.

Representatives of 190 countries will meet on Bali next week to start UN-sponsored negotiations to write a successor to the Kyoto accord. At stake is persuading China and the U.S., the top greenhouse-gas emitters, to join an international regime of curbing carbon dioxide and trading permits among polluters to put a cost on global warming.

Between now and 2030, the average annual cost of cutting emissions would equal 1.6 percent of global gross domestic product, the authors said. A report last year by former top U.K. economic adviser Nicholas Stern found that failure to invest now in emissions reduction could result in climate-change effects that would cut global GDP by 5 percent to 20 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Gale in Singapore at; Bill Varner at the United Nations at