Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a special privilege to welcome colleagues who have travelled from other countries to join this National Workshop on Climate Change and Human Health. I also take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Health and WHO for organising this important workshop just few weeks before the Climate Conference in Copenhagen.
Saturday a week ago, Philippines was battered by 100km and hour typhoon killing over 250 people and displacing over a half a million.
On Tuesday, last week, and 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck about 120 miles from Apia killing more than 170 people in Western Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.
On Wednesday and Thursday a series of powerful earthquakes hit Sumatra killing more than a thousand people and with 3000 people still missing.
It is not normal to have so many natural disasters in such a short time, as we had in the past week in the South East Asia. It is hard to believe that there is no relationship among the series of earthquakes that his Sumatra, the typhoons that is still flooding much of the Philippines and the devastating earthquake and the resulting tsunami off the coast of Samoa and Tonga. Hundreds of people have lost their livelihoods. As we speak, these countries are still burying their dead and mourning irreparable losses. I extend our deepest condolences to the people of Samoa, Indonesia, Philippines, Tonga, and Cambodia.
“The winds have uttered their strength, the earth has spokes its grief and the wave has scattered its strength”, said the Prime Minister of Western Samoa.
It was about five years ago we in Maldives experienced the terrible Indian Ocean tsunami along with many other Asian countries, as we are still trying to recover. Therefore, we fully understand the grief and suffering of our fellow islanders in the Pacific.
There is ample evidence to prove that the frequency and the intensity of natural disasters keep increasing day by day. One might ask what’s going on? If you are convinced that we have reached dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, perhaps you might wonder if the earth is struggling to breath as it is being suffocated by the poisonous greenhouse gases. It is hard for me to believe that climate change has no bearing what so ever on these events.
With current level on 387ppm and the estimated that the atmospheric temperature is likely to rise unbearably within this generation, all indications are that natural disasters will become the greatest threat to human life. Nations and the world community must prepare for these extra ordinary events and be ready with well-coordinated contingency plans and resources to respond effectively to save lives.
These events result not only in deaths and injuries, they also deteriorate the environment causing the spread of disease. Climate change is likely to increase seasonal transmission and geographic range of vector borne diseases. These will include dengue, malaria, yellow fever and various typed of viral infections.
Climate change is likely to have indirect and knock on effects due to social, economic and political disruption caused by climate change, including effects on food security and water supplies. In addition we are told that rising sea temperatures can cause increased levels of mercury in fish. Eating mercury contaminated fish could seriously impair the cognitive development in children. Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that climate change is causing geographical shifts in fisheries and variations in agriculture. Declining fisheries and crop failure are likely to further deteriorate the conditions of malnutrition, still widespread in many of our countries and contribute to undermine gains made in poverty eradication and other millennium development goals.
It is not my intention to alarm anyone, but if what is happening is even partially true, you can understand what is this means to people living in resource poor small island countries, There is no doubt that climate change is increasing the vulnerability of SIDA. There is no doubt that adaptation to climate change is the number 1 challenge. Adaptation to climate change is not only a matter of erecting walls. What is much more urgent is the need to protect our people from the devastating effects of climate change on human health and security. Climate change is not only eroding the land beneath us, it is making what is left unlivable.
What does all this mean?
First, it means we have to better understand how climate change is impacting on human health in our countries. We need to establish and strengthen capacities for research and monitoring. We need to continue to share our experiences on a more regular basis. We need to develop the knowledge base and evidence to substantiate our claims.
Second, we need to build capacity to respond to epidemics, and strengthen the systems for prevention and treatment for frequent and more intensive outbreaks of diseases.
Third, we need to have well developed emergency preparedness plans, early warning systems, and institutional capacities for rapid response.
Fourth, our development plans must address the progressively deteriorating environment and depletion of natural resources. Proper disposal of waste, safe drinking water and natural foods must be central to all development plans. Similarly, we need to restore the environment through climate change mitigation to achieve our goal of carbon neutrality.
Fifth, public awareness and participation in healthy lifestyles and in the preservation of the environment is necessary to create sustainable and healthy development. It requires much greater awareness on environmental protection.
Finally, climate change adaptation for human health and security must take priority in climate change discourse and negotiations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hop that the next few days will help us to move ahead with the above agenda and that we could help each of our country delegations to COP15 to be better prepared to address the issue of adaptation to climate change with a focus on human health and security.
I am pleased that the workshop will produce draft Natural Health Action Plan and a draft plan for reducing carbon in the health sector as well.
Wish you the best in your proceedings.