Climate Change Will Make It Harder For China To Control Water-Related Diseases

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

A young holiday goer waves the Chinese national flag on the first day of a week-long National Day holidays in Shanghai, China, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

Climate change is making it more difficult to control water-related diseases in China, a new study has found.

The study, published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, found that by 2030, climate change could delay China’s efforts to cut back on water-borne illnesses by up to seven years. That delay would put a dent in China’s progress on the issue: between 1990 and 2010, deaths from diarrheal diseases in China dropped by 94 percent, and malaria and Japanese encephalitis — which both rely on water to develop — fell by 60 and 80 percent, respectively.

Climate change impacts water-related diseases largely because warmer temperatures can lead to increased growth of disease organisms. But there’s still hope for disease prevention in China: according to the study, if China and the rest of the world take steps to scale back greenhouse gas emissions, China’s efforts on waterborne diseases will be set back three years, rather than seven.

Climate change has long been tied to increased spread of disease. Increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns can expand the range of disease vectors, like mosquitoes, meaning more people could be at risk of contracting a disease like dengue fever or malaria. Cases of Valley Fever, a potentially deadly disease whose cases have surged in recent years in dry, hot regions of North America, have surged in recent years, an increase that’s also been tied to climate change. Climate change can also drive up instances of harmful algal blooms, like the one that poisoned Toledo, Ohio’s water in August of this year.

A study in 2009 found that climate change will have “devastating consequences” on public health, due to expanded ranges of disease vectors but also as a result of increased deaths from heat waves, reduced access to food and water, and large-scale migrations, which can lead to further disease spread as well as civil unrest.

In Ethiopia, climate-induced migration has been tied to increased spread of disease. As unpredictable weather drives farmers to travel to other regions of the African country for work, they’re increasingly vulnerable to a sandfly-borne disease called kalaazar. The increased migration is making it more likely for farmers to come in contact with the sandfly, which is also changing its range due to climate change.

“It is a kalaazar endemic area,” Ermias Diro, a researcher at the University of Gondar’s clinic, said of the region near Sudan’s border that’s drawing out-of-work Ethiopian farmers. “A lot of people travel there to look for work and in the process they get bitten by the sandfly.”