The recent heatwave we have all experienced is nothing but a teaser of the impacts of climate change. In fact, this summer, it has become more important than ever to recognise the various impacts of climate change, especially on vulnerable communities living in under-resourced countries like Malawi and Rwanda, whose populations contribute the least to global warming.
With climate change bringing about harsh and erratic weather patterns, these communities’ access to basic resources such as food, water and shelter becomes even more of a struggle (WHO, 2021). This will not only create more barriers between the vulnerable people living in these communities and their access to healthcare, but it also increases the risk of contracting a variety of different diseases – especially preventable diseases like diarrhoea.
Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, and was responsible for the deaths of 370,000 children in 2019. Diarrhoea is usually a symptom of an infection in the intestinal tract, which can be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms.These are usually contracted through contaminated food or drinking-water, from person-to-person as a result of poor hygiene, or from malnutrition.
How is climate change related to diarrhoea?
It is no news that climate change will increase the prevalence of droughts, floods and other natural disasters, leading to further challenges for vulnerable communities with gaining access to food and clean water. When the people residing in such communities find themselves deprived of adequate water and sanitation during the event of extreme weather conditions, they are more likely to contract diseases like diarrhoea and less likely to recover quickly from it (Unicef, 2015).
Moreover, natural disasters or severe weather events can destroy existing infrastructure, especially hospitals and clinics (many vulnerable communities already have limited access to these resources and services), and people will become displaced into temporary, overcrowded shelters where everything from drinking water to food can be contaminated, and sanitation is inadequate. Such conditions could then increase the cases of diarrhoea, which can also cause malnutrition (WHO). These circumstances can also limit the access of health services and transport, therefore reducing the potential for prompt treatment of diarrhoea cases, which is why diarrhoea is a major cause of death during natural disasters and other complex emergencies (Unicef, 2015). Furthermore, such weather events increase migratory pressures on vulnerable families, disrupting their day-to-day lives and increasing the risk of displacement.
What can I do?
For starters, you can begin by engaging in more climate-friendly behaviours and activities that can help keep global temperatures down. The most important thing to recognise whilst keeping up with sustainable and climate-friendly practices is to understand that we all have a responsibility to this planet, considering it provides us with everything we need. Your actions as a single human being also count and help make a difference, though it may not always be obvious.
Secondly, you can donate and support charities and organisations that are truly making a difference. This summer, we are focused on raising awareness of the impacts of climate change on healthcare, and highlighting the work we are doing to mitigate the effects of climate change on vulnerable communities worldwide. For example, our Life Saving Fund enables us to serve communities that will be hit the worst by climate change through low-cost, high-impact solutions. Just £1 can provide life-saving treatment such as antibiotics, malaria tablets and rehydration care for diarrhoea to vulnerable patients who would not be able to survive without this medication and support. Every donation, no matter how big or small, saves lives.