The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has conducted an overall assessment of climate adaptation in the health context in the UAE. Through surveys and a stakeholders’ workshop, MOCCAE outlined the direct and indirect climate-related health risks and the existing and possible actionable solutions for public health adaptation.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), Department of Health - Abu Dhabi, Dubai Health Authority, as well as representatives from the private sector and academia attended the workshop and contributed their insights on the topic. Fahed Al Hammadi, Acting Assistant Undersecretary of the Green Development and Climate Change Sector at MOCCAE, said, "We are already feeling the impacts of climate change in all aspects of our lives. Given the current projections, such impacts will continue to grow in intensity and frequency, and adaptation is the only viable response strategy.
"This assessment of climate-related health risks is the first brick in the wall to identify the current impacts of climate change on various sectors and come up with ways to adapt to these impacts. Such assessments will help us understand the bigger picture and act accordingly."
For his part, Dr Hussein Abdul Rahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for Centers and Health Clinics, MOHAP, said, "We are pleased to join forces with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment to confirm that the National Climate Adaptation Program is delivered as planned. It is crucial to take concrete action to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts and build national capacities that can effectively tackle these impacts. In order to ensure a comprehensive overview, we need to capitalize on the research and experiments carried out by other nations as well as the data generated across the UAE.
"In this context, MOHAP has long worked on raising public awareness of the climate-related health risks and enhancing the health system across the country to ensure the UAE is well-poised to adapt to climate change. The recent assessment reveals the burden of climate-related diseases, which should be monitored and addressed. These include diseases associated with carbon pollution, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, climate-related infectious diseases, malnutrition, and heat stress, which leads to reduced labor productivity and spiraling health costs."
Health experts concluded that the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on human health in the UAE are primarily seen in the form of heat stress. This results in reduced labor productivity, particularly for outdoor laborers, and mortality or morbidity due to heat stroke. They also noted that the multiple initiatives that have been carried out as part of environmental health and occupational safety policies are relevant – either directly or indirectly – to climate adaptation in the health sector.
They highlighted the Ministerial Order No. 401 of 2015 that determines the afternoon working hours of laborers employed outdoors to reduce heat exhaustion and heat stress. Another finding is that despite the existence of adaptation-related initiatives for climate risks, there is still a lot of room for more climate-focused adaptation policies and programs. Health experts proposed multiple actions to help address high and medium risks. Proposed actions include enhancing early warning systems and developing heat alert plans, especially for outdoor laborers during extreme heat events, and developing the capacity of clinics and health stations to recognize and respond to labor concerns on reduced productivity due to climate-related factors.
Furthermore, they recommended that more research needs to be undertaken on the effects of climate change on labor productivity, in addition to strengthening enforcement of existing initiatives such as the Safety in Heat and midday break programs. They also suggested enhancing monitoring and evaluation to objectively assess results, and mainstream climate change adaptation through reorienting existing programs on environmental health and occupational safety to better highlight their adaptation components.
To reduce climate change impacts and pave the way for green economic diversification, the UAE has adopted various policies at the federal and emirate levels to facilitate the transition from a hydrocarbon-dependent economy to a sustainable knowledge-based economy in line with the UAE Vision 2021. The assessment findings correlate to those of the Leaders’ Roundtable: Climate Change and Public Health held on the sidelines of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 73). The roundtable touched on the non-communicable disease (NCD) dimension of the climate-health nexus, given that many greenhouse gas emission sources are key drivers of NCDs. Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment cohosted a roundtable, alongside Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Nikolai Astrup, Norwegian Minister of International Development, and Gina McCarthy, Professor of the Practice of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE).
At the roundtable discussions, Dr Al Zeyoudi said: "It’s evident that our health and the infrastructure underpinning the health industry will be at increasing risk as climate change intensifies. That is why, the health sector is one of the first sectors we are addressing under the National Climate Adaptation Program launched in September 2017, along with energy, infrastructure and environment sectors. We are systematically assessing risks and identifying mitigation options."
© Copyright Emirates News Agency (WAM) 2018.