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Climate and Health across Africa  

Benjamin F. Zaitchik

Humans have understood the importance of climate to human health since ancient times. In some cases, the connections appear to be obvious: a flood can cause drownings, a drought can lead to crop failure and hunger, and temperature extremes pose a risk of exposure. In other cases, the connections are veiled by complex or unobserved processes, such that the influence of climate on a disease epidemic or a conflict can be difficult to diagnose. In reality, however, all climate impacts on health are mediated by some combination of natural and human dynamics that cause individuals or populations to be vulnerable to the effects of a variable or changing climate. Understanding and managing negative health impacts of climate is a global challenge. The challenge is greater in regions with high poverty and weak institutions, however, and Africa is a continent where the health burden of climate is particularly acute. Observed climate variability in the modern era has been associated with widespread food insecurity, significant epidemics of infectious disease, and loss of life and livelihoods to climate extremes. Anthropogenic climate change is a further stress that has the potential to increase malnutrition, alter the distribution of diseases, and bring more frequent hydrological and temperature extremes to many regions across the continent. Skillful early warning systems and informed climate change adaptation strategies have the potential to enhance resilience to short-term climate variability and to buffer against negative impacts of climate change. But effective warnings and projections require both scientific and institutional capacity to address complex processes that are mediated by physical, ecological, and societal systems. Here the state of understanding climate impacts on health in Africa is summarized through a selective review that focuses on food security, infectious disease, and extreme events. The potential to apply scientific understanding to early warning and climate change projection is also considered.

Article

Climate Change Communication in Colombia  

Luisa Fernanda Lema Vélez, Daniel Hermelin, María Margarita Fontecha, and Dunia H. Urrego

Colombia is in a privileged position to take advantage of international climate agreements to finance sustainable development initiatives. The country is a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreements. As a non-Annex I party to the UNFCCC, Colombia produces low emissions in relation to global numbers (0.46% of total global emissions for 2010) and exhibits biogeographical conditions that are ideal for mitigation of climate change through greenhouse gas sequestration and emission reductions. Simultaneously, recent extreme climatic events have harshly compromised the country’s economy, making Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change evident. While these conditions should justify a strong approach to climate change communication that motivates decision making and leads to mitigation and adaptation, the majority of sectors still fall short of effectively communicating their climate change messages. Official information about climate change is often too technical and rarely includes a call for action. However, a few exceptions exist, including environmental education materials for children and a noteworthy recent strategy to deliver the Third Communication to the UNFCCC in a form that is more palatable to the general public. Despite strong research on climate change, particularly related to agricultural, environmental, and earth sciences, academic products are rarely communicated in a way that is easily understood by decision makers and has a clear impact on public policy. Messages from the mass media frequently confuse rather than inform the public. For instance, television news refers to weather-related disasters, climate variability, and climate change indiscriminately. This shapes an erroneous idea of climate change among the public and weakens the effectiveness of communications on the issue. The authors contrast the practices of these sectors with those of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Colombia to show how they address the specific climate communication needs facing the country. These NGOs directly face the challenge of working with diverse population groups in this multicultural, multiethnic, and megadiverse country. NGOs customize languages, channels, and messages for different audiences and contexts, with the ultimate goal of building capacity in local communities, influencing policymakers, and sensitizing the private sector. Strategies that result from the work of interdisciplinary groups, involve feedback from the audiences, and incorporate adaptive management have proven to be particularly effective.