The environment and our health

Published by reposted only Date posted on December 3, 2009

While Filipinos continue to indulge themselves in the political fiesta atmosphere with every Tom, Dick and Gloria running for office in 2010, experts are concerned about the worsening threat of climate change and its impact on the lives of billions of people all over the world. Aside from disasters due to erratic weather patterns, experts have long pointed out that one of the more serious effects of climate change is the increase in all sorts of illnesses and diseases.

At a recent forum spearheaded by the DOH’s National Center for Disease and Prevention Control, participants confirmed that health risks due to climate change are “real and inevitable,” noting that the more vulnerable sectors belong to the elderly, the young and the poor. Of particular concern are temperature-related illnesses, air pollution-related diseases and other effects caused by extreme weather patterns.

Considering that the Philippines has been pinpointed as one of the top 12 countries that face the highest risk due to climate change – and despite the recent floods and the outbreak of leptospirosis due to typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng – it’s surprising how Filipinos continue to disregard warnings about the need to protect and preserve the environment. To this day, there are many who continue to throw their garbage indiscriminately and jeeps, buses and other vehicles continue to emit toxic fumes that contribute to the worsening air quality in Metro Manila.

A recent study by the World Bank noted that air pollution is costing the economy of this country billions of pesos due to lost productivity and health care expenses, with 1.5 million Filipinos suffering from respiratory diseases every year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution. In its country environmental analysis, the World Bank disclosed that outdoor pollution alone is costing the economy some P950 million every year, with the biggest loss seen in terms of productivity estimated at P502 million, while healthcare costs amounted to P360 million.

The same study revealed that the biggest contributors to outdoor pollution are emissions from factories and vehicles. This is not surprising since the DENR has noted that air quality particularly in Metro Manila continues to be below standard – unfortunately the same kind of air that the rest of the population breathes day in and day out.

If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that in comparison to other cities, the air pollution index (API) in Metro Manila is very high at 420, while Beijing has one of the highest at 500 while Mumbai is at 410. Compare that to Vancouver with an API of two and Christchurch in New Zealand which has an air pollution index of 1 and is one of the cleanest cities in the world. This should show you just how bad Metro Manila’s air quality has become, and the fact that densely populated cities have a tendency to record high air pollution levels. Obviously, this has become very serious because poor air quality contributes to respiratory problems.

Even leading health organizations in Europe have indicated concern about the risk of premature deaths due to respiratory illnesses as a result of global warming and climate change. According to the Health and Environment Alliance and the European Respiratory Society, a rise in temperature increases the burden for those who are already suffering from asthma, respiratory tract infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

In fact, there is growing evidence that global climate affects ground level ozone – a known pulmonary irritant being pinpointed as a probable cause for increased hospital admissions for asthma, allergic rhinitis, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. According to the World Health Organization, “urban air pollution” caused the death of 800,000 people in 2000 – and the number is most likely higher today. Even I myself can no longer deny the serious effects of climate change since I suffer from allergic rhinitis, a condition which gets worse especially during this kind of weather when strong winds carry allergens in the air.

Clearly, the issue of climate change is something that should not be placed in the backburner because of its implications to health, plus the fact that it also threatens the livelihood of people due to storms, droughts, floods and other calamities. Among all the candidates, Loren Legarda stands out because of her strong advocacy for a “green environment” in the country.

Climate change, Loren had pointed out, has “amplified the threat of catastrophic disasters arising from the steady deterioration of the environment over the years” – and these disasters in turn contribute to the worsening poverty of Filipinos, many of whom could not afford the cost of medicine and healthcare in this country.

While education, poverty and corruption continue to be pressing problems in the country today, at the end of the day, the environment – specifically climate change – is an issue that those who are running for president will have to face in the very near future because it will impact on the wealth and health of Filipinos.  –Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star)

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