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​Changing temperatures and rainfall patterns could result in the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria, experts warn.
THE effect of climate change on human health was discussed when the City’s directorate of air quality and climate change met pharmaceutical company Adcock Ingram to exchange industry-related knowledge.

Executive director for environment Flora MokgohloaExecutive director for environment Flora Mokgohloa talks about climate changeThe meeting was convened at the request of the City in line with guidelines in the Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy on health and environmental management. It was the first of such consultations and was held on Tuesday, 24 April in Midrand. Also there were members of the media and academia, non-governmental organisations, members of civil society and private business.

It is hoped that discussions will help political leaders with policy and decision-making with regards to climate change and combating its effects on human health. Issues tackled included climate sensitive diseases, how climate change affects health and the economy, challenges with which the City was grappling and best practices elsewhere that Joburg could adopt.

Barney Kgope, the director of air quality and climate in the department of environmental management, warned that “mean global temperatures are rising faster with time” and said changes had been recorded in physical and biological systems and surface temperatures between 1970 and 2004.

Although the planet continues to warm gradually, the effects of extreme weather events will be more abrupt and acutely felt in future, affecting health, air, water, food, shelter and freedom from disease. Human activities have been signalled as the principal cause of climate change.

Food security
Agriculture has been named one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change because variable temperatures and frequent natural disasters have compromised food security and in some instances led to the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, particularly in areas suffering from water scarcity and where sanitation services are inadequate.

Finding solutions for such predicaments was pivotal to the partnership, the City said.

Scientists and other health experts have warned that changing temperatures and rainfall patterns could alter the geographical distribution of insect vectors that spread infectious diseases such as malaria.

The City is planting trees to mitigate the effects of climate changeThe City is planting trees to mitigate the effects of climate change“Climate model projections for Johannesburg indicate that the local climate is likely to become both significantly hotter and more humid in future. Models suggest that temperatures for Johannesburg may increase by around 2.3°C by the near future (2056 – 2065) and by around 4.4°C by the far future (2081 – 2100),” Kgope explained.

He said the City was looking into implementing effective climatic modelling and warning systems to help combat the problem. It had installed solar water heaters, ceiling insulation, and energy efficient lighting; planted trees and invested in rainwater harvesting and food gardens as part of decreasing its carbon footprint.

Future interventions included shifting to a low carbon infrastructure, introducing a system of integrated waste management, green transport, building sustainable human settlements and forging collaborative partnerships with communities.

Empirical scientific evidence reveals that the planet’s temperature will rise more than 2°C. Increased temperatures will result in more heat waves, poor air quality, decreased economic activity and output, increased risk of heat, related mortality and chronic illnesses.

Changes in the biosphere have already affected soil fertility and biodiversity in general.

“There is substantial risk that Johannesburg will experience an increase in annual rainfall characterised by a higher frequency of storm events and a longer rainy season,” he said.

Scientists associate weather variability with changes in birth rates and sperm counts, outbreaks of pneumonia, influenza and bronchitis. Water borne and vector diseases are expected to increase because of increased flooding that could result in the contamination of water supplies. The City warned that vector-borne diseases could peak in the warmer months.

“Environmental issues have been topical for some time now, but it has become clear that the impact of climate change on health needs to be further highlighted and addressed,” said the chief executive of Adcock Ingram, Dr Jonathan Louw. “Adcock Ingram is committed to driving this conversation throughout our business including our employees.”

The pharmaceutical company is one of South Africa’s major suppliers of over-the-counter medicines for coughs, colds and pain. It also manufactures hospital products, blood systems, renal dialysis and injectable medication.

Whether climate change affects human health has emerged recently as a major theme in population health research and social policy development. Some of the ill health effects may lie ahead if the increase in extreme weather events continued, experts at the meeting warned.

Peter Manganyi, the director of environmental health, said climate change was one of the biggest threats facing Joburg. “It is real,” he said. “We have a collective responsibility to join efforts in addressing issues of climate change.”

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Department of environment, infrastructure and services