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Pakistan’s Children Under Threat by Climate Change

Children are particularly threatened by smog due to shorter and narrower airways, immature detoxification systems, frequent mouth breathing, significant physical activity and spending time outside.

Climate

Climate change will damage the health of an entire generation unless there are immediate cuts to fossil fuel emissions, from a rise in deadly infectious diseases to surging malnutrition, experts warned Thursday.

Children across the world were already suffering the ill effects of air pollution and extreme weather events, said The Lancet Countdown in its annual report on the impact of climate change on human health.

And far worse is to come for future generations, it warned: air-borne diseases, malnutrition due to mass crop failures, and even mental and physical trauma from increased flash flooding and wildfires.

The Lancet Countdown is a coalition of 35 institutions including the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Their warning comes as some of Australia’s worst wildfires in living memory continue to burn across its eastern seaboard, and after a global youth strike inspired by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg.

Populations around the world are migrating, growing and ageing in the areas that are worst affected by climate change.

August was the hottest month ever recorded and Earth has already warmed one degree Celsius (1.8 Farenheit) since industrialisation. The Paris Climate treaty of 2015 enjoins nations to limit temperature rises to 2C, or preferably to 1.5C if possible.

Yet emissions continue to rise year on year, putting Earth on a path that could lead to a 4C temperature rise by the end of the century — bringing peril for human health.

Read more: Climate change and worsening water situation in Pakistan

Disease, malnutrition, pollution

“A kid born today has an average global life expectancy of 71 years so that brings them to 2090. That means that kid will experience a 4C world,” Nick Watts, executive director of The Lancet Countdown, told AFP.

The report, compiled by 120 experts, used the latest available data and climate modelling to predict global health trends as the mercury climbs throughout the decades. In parts of the world already, the health effects from climate change start in the first weeks of a baby’s life.

In the last 30 years, the global yield potential of staple crops such as maize, winter wheat and rice, have all declined, putting infants and small children at heightened risk of malnutrition.

Infant malnutrition impacts every stage of a child’s life, stunting growth, weakening the immune system and throwing up long-term developmental problems. More children will also be susceptible to infectious disease outbreaks.

In three just three decades, the number of days worldwide of prime infectiousness for the Vibrio bacteria — which causes much of child diarrhoeal disease worldwide — has doubled. This not only increases the likelihood of children contracting diseases such as cholera in at-risk regions, it also enlarges their spread.

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The report found that mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria were also on the march, putting half of the world’s current population at risk.

And people in cities are already suffering premature disease and death from air pollution — coal plants alone contributed a likely one million premature deaths worldwide in 2016.

Climate change = public health

Extreme weather events are likely to proliferate as temperatures climb, posing increasingly frequent economic disruption. For example, in 2018, 45 billion hours of work were lost due to extreme heat globally compared with 2000.

“Climate change is not about 2100, climate change is about Wednesday, November 13, 2019,” said Watts, speaking on the day. “Populations around the world are migrating, growing and ageing in the areas that are worst affected by climate change.”

He said even lawmakers in developed, temperate nations “ought to be already extremely concerned” about heatwaves; temperature records were smashed across Europe this year in a string of deadly heatwaves.

Read more: Climate change VS capitalism: US begins withdrawal from the Paris climate accord

“Speaking about climate change as parts per million of CO2 is impossible to grasp for most people. Health is tangible. We all know what its effects look like,” added Watt.

“The more we can think about climate change as a public health issue, the more we can get governments to understand the seriousness of the threat of their health services being overwhelmed.”

Pakistan and climate change 

Pakistan has faced catastrophic floods, droughts, and cyclones in recent years that have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods, and damaged infrastructure. Climate change raises the prospect that these and other natural hazards will increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades—a stark reminder that Pakistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

However, it takes something a lot more confrontational to remind our country something’s wrong. What has caught everyone’s attention is the recent plague of smog across major cities in Pakistan.

 

An initiative launched by the Pakistan Parliament’s Upper House, the Senate, estlabished a sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Climate Change and declared the “Right to a clean, green and healthy environment” as a fundamental Human Right. However, the government has not invested in the fight against climate change.

The public suffering from its consequences were quick to criticise Minister of Climate Change, Zartaj Gul for calling the reports on Lahore’s air pollution a conspiracy, questioning her ability to tackle the emergency at hand.

She and Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry both blamed India on Twitter for Lahore’s pollution.

Ms Gul Wazir questioned the AQI data and insisted Lahore’s air was “nowhere as bad as being asserted by vested elements”.

Sara Hayat, a lawyer with expertise in climate change law and policy and no relation of petitioner Mishael Hayat, says such buck-passing is pointless.

Read more: Climate Change: Causes, Outcomes in Pakistan And a Way Forward

“There should be no contention on whether the smog situation is or isn’t a public emergency. The government needn’t waste any time disputing this,” she says.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, late on 6 November, announced the closure of all public and private schools in provincial capital Lahore after the Air Quality Index (AQI) soared to over 500 in parts of the city.

Children are particularly threatened by smog due to shorter and narrower airways, immature detoxification systems, frequent mouth breathing, significant physical activity and spending time outside.

The chief minister said, “Due to sudden increase in smog, all schools in Lahore will remain closed tomorrow. We are closely monitoring the #LahoreSmog situation. Administration is already on high alert and have tasked them to escalate actions against crop burning and other factors that contribute to smog.”

However, schools were re-opened as soon as AQI levels signalled a ‘moderate’ level of smog. This proved to be a hasty move as AQI levels soared soon after, leaving parents and students panicked.

Children are particularly threatened by smog due to shorter and narrower airways, immature detoxification systems, frequent mouth breathing, significant physical activity and spending time outside. Calculated per kilogram of body weight, a child has more minute ventilation and a longer life expectancy than an adult.

It is recommended that people in Pakistan, specifically children and the elderly, alter habits, remain safe by limiting outdoor activities, and push for systematic solutions from the government.

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