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Climate change and conflict, a perfect storm
By Mariėtte Le Roux
Paris (AFP) Nov 29, 2015

The many health impacts of climate change
Paris (AFP) Nov 28, 2015 - Medical experts say climate change affects human health in direct ways, by the spread of water- and mosquito-borne diseases for example, and indirectly, such as through hunger.

Here is a snapshot of the problem:

- Thousands more dead -

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change could result in nearly 250,000 deaths per year -- an estimated 38,000 from high temperatures, 48,000 deaths from diarrhoea, 60,000 from malaria and 95,000 from malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

By 2030, the direct damage costs to health will be a whopping two to four billion US dollars (1.9 to 3.8 billion euros) per year, according to the WHO.

- Cause and effect -

Patrice Halimi, the secretary general of France's environmental health association, said it is a multi-faceted issue.

"Like any other slow-onset disaster, there is not one cause that leads to one effect," he said. "It's a series of events."

Halimi said it is not necessarily global warming itself that would lead to a cholera epidemic, but warmer temperatures conducive to deadly outbreaks.

Robert Barouki of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research said that the real difficulty lies in "measuring the part that global warming plays in health issues."

- Direct links -

Scorching temperatures can cause cardiovascular and respiratory problems, especially in elderly people.

"There have always been heatwaves, but their frequency and intensity have increased," Barouki said.

During the widespread 2003 heatwave in Europe, more than 70,000 deaths were recorded.

And with more sunlight comes more UV-related risks, like skin cancer, Barouki said.

Climate change will also lead to increased deaths from natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

Weather-related disasters have tripled since the 1960s, WHO says, adding that "every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries."

- Infectious diseases -

Halimi says global warming will facilitate the spread of infectious diseases which depend on carriers such as mosquitoes.

WHO said that climate change is likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of these "vector-borne" diseases -- which are spread by a vector, or carrier -- and to alter their geographic range. Malaria already kills around 800,000 people per year, according to WHO.

Mosquitoes also spread the deadly dengue fever, and some studies suggest that global warming could lead to two billion more people being at risk from the disease by 2080.

The UN agency estimates that China will see an increase in a disease called Schistosomiasis, spread by snails in many underdeveloped regions. Some 240 million people worldwide already suffer from Schistosomiasis.

- Pollution and asthma -

Bruno Housset, head of the French Federation of Pneumology, says an increase in forest fires caused by global warming, especially in the north, would result in more fine particles in the air. These particles are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and can lead to lung cancer and asthma.

Around 300 million people suffer from asthma worldwide, and WHO says the "ongoing temperature increases are expected to increase this burden."

Warmer temperatures will also likely help allergy-inducing plants multiply, with Europe's pollen concentration expected to swell fourfold by 2050.

Violence has cast a long shadow over a climate summit opening in Paris on Monday, two weeks after 130 people were killed in a coordinated jihadist onslaught on the French capital.

As more than 150 world leaders prepared to meet under heightened security, analysts warned of an increasingly war-torn future facing humanity if they fail to limit global warming.

The Paris attacks on November 13 were claimed by the Islamic State group that has a brutal war in Syria -- a conflict rooted in part, experts say, on an historic drought from 2006 to 2010.

It drove some 1.5 million farmers and herders off their land and into cities and towns like Homs, Palmyra and Damascus.

"It's not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced the worst drought on record," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Milan last month.

According to Francesco Femia of The Center for Climate and Security in Washington DC, research has shown the Syrian drought "was made two-to-three times more likely because of climate change".

Many a report has suggested that water scarcity, exacerbated by global warming, has fuelled deadly conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, thus contributing to the flood of refugees seeking a better life in Europe and elsewhere.

Experts warn the situation is likely to worsen as climate conditions become more hostile to human survival -- and people become more desperate.

- 'Threat multiplier' -

While climate change is not, on its own, a direct cause of conflict, competition for dwindling water and land resources can certainly fan flames in an already volatile situation, say analysts.

"Climate change is a 'threat multiplier'," Femia told AFP.

"If, in a certain place, you introduce climate stress to the kinds of natural resource deficiencies that can contribute to state failure or conflict, you increase the likelihood of a conflict occurring."

In July, an international team of scientists, policy analysts, financial and military risk experts, cautioned that food and water shortages would boost future conflicts over resources, mass migration and state failure.

Even sophisticated governments may be unable to deal with the combination of pressures, said the report entitled "Climate Change, a Risk Assessment".

"The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism," with large numbers of marginalised and disenfranchised people to recruit from, said the report compiled for policymakers.

Negotiators from 195 nations will gather in Paris until December 11 to craft a pact to stave off worst-case-scenario climate change by limiting emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The goal is to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above mid-19th century levels, when industrial-scale emissions began.

Even a 2 C increase will mean a land-gobbling sea level rise, longer and more frequent droughts, and increasingly acute water shortages, scientists say. But the projected impacts worsen significantly beyond the two degree threshold.

A recent report by the Washington-based World Resources Institute warned that "high water stress" in Syria and its neighbours "will likely deteriorate in the coming decades."

"A well-documented path can connect water scarcity to food insecurity, social instability and potentially violent conflict," it said, adding that "climate change amplifies scarcity worries."

Earlier this month, Toby Lanzer, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, warned that Europe's migrant crisis will become worse if the Paris climate summit fails countries in the drought-stricken Lake Chad basin.

Some 2.5 million people in the region have been displaced by a toxic mix of drought, poverty and conflict.

An estimated 850,000 migrants have entered the European Union so far this year, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa.

- 'Increasing evidence' -

"There is increasing evidence ... that there may be a statistically-significant correlation between climate change and conflict," Femia said.

This was borne out, he said, "in places like Kenya, where a changing climate has been linked to conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, and in Syria, where a mass internal displacement of people may be connected to political turmoil."

President Francois Hollande of climate summit host France, also linked climate and conflict in a magazine interview this week.

"Even if we solve the problem of Syria, we will still be confronted with the migration of millions of people forced to move because they can't cultivate their land," he told l'Express.

"This disorder can engender new conflicts."

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