In Africa, Climate Change Wages War on Bodies, Not Just Lands

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

While the African Union concentrates on strategies to mitigate the devastating financial effects climate change is having on Africans, I worry instead about its impact on our bodies. As a doctor working in my native Ethiopia, I see the results of our warming planet, not just in the dry earth or the torrential skies, but in my patients every single day.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2004 report on the global and regional burden of disease, at least 150,000 people die each year due to the direct effects of climate change. Of those, three percent die of diarrhea, another three percent of malaria, and just under four percent of dengue fever. Climate change is expected to trigger increased movements of people within and across borders. The International Organization for Migration estimates (that by 2050, between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants will move within their countries or across borders). Rural to urban migration increases migrants’ vulnerability to respiratory diseases and HIV infection. Migration is also one of the key causes of tuberculosis (TB) in countries which in the past rarely saw the disease, which often creates a steep financial burden for these countries.

Additionally, the prevalence of new and re-emerging mosquito-borne diseases is increasing worldwide due to climate change. Rising temperatures in the highlands allow…

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