Climate change threatens human health in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region
A study published in the scientific journal ‘Environmental Research’ presents the first comprehensive review of how climate change impacts the health of people in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) region. It identifies climate-induced challenges relating to extreme heat, water scarcity and air pollution as serious threats and draws links between climate change and changes in the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases and the health of displaced population.
The study, which involved an international group of researchers under the coordination of the Cyprus Institute, focuses specifically on the EMME region that is recognized as a global climate change hotspot. Based on a revision of scientific literature, it concludes that without immediate action to avert current climate trajectories, temperatures in several cities around the Persian Gulf could surpass the limits suitable for human survival by 2100. In addition, all countries in the Middle East could see their reserves of ground water depleted by 2050, leading to failures in agricultural production, food insecurity, and increased health problems associated with the consumption of contaminated water. A combination of worsening environmental conditions (including warming weather, water shortage and deforestation) is predicted to also increase the frequency and intensity of dust storms, increasing the risk of hospitalization and death. It is estimated that in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, up to 1 million people die prematurely each year due to air pollution, and the study predicts that the growing urbanization rates, prevalence of urban heat islands, and human-induced emissions (particularly from burning fossil fuel) will result in excess morbidity and mortality in the EMME region.
“Climatic factors and human health are closely linked in complex ways”, explains Dr Marco Neira, Associate Research Scientist at the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center of the Cyprus Institute and lead author of this study. “The impacts of climate change on human health can be both direct and indirect, and these are further compounded by a variety of biological, ecological and socio-political factors, such as age, gender, location, socio-economic status, occupation and underlying health conditions. For example, a combination of ecological and socio-economic factors in the EMME region creates appropriate conditions for the local transmission of vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis and West Nile fever.”
Because most of the climate-related factors found to impact human health cannot be contained by national boundaries, the authors conclude that any actions must have a regional scope, stressing the need for coordination among the EMME nations. “We make specific policy recommendations on how to approach this”, says Professor George Christophides of the Cyprus Institute and Imperial College London, and senior author of the study. “In addition to calling for a decisive movement towards decarbonization, we make recommendations for specific adaptation actions. Importantly, we stress the need for additional research to better understand the health challenges posed by climate change in the region, as well as the establishment of a regional hub that will collate, integrate and analyze environmentally-driven health data.”
The study was commissioned by the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME-CCI, emme-cci.org), announced by the Cyprus Government in 2019. The Cyprus Institute coordinated the scientific component of the initiative which brought together more than 240 scientists from the EMME region and produced 11 such studies with different thematic foci (https://emme-cci.org/scientific-task-forces/). This initiative aims at the development of a joint Regional Climate Action Plan to address the specific needs and challenges EMME countries are facing, and advance coordinated action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. The “Sharm-el-Sheikh Declaration of the EMME-CCI” was adopted by 10 countries of the EMME in a dedicated Summit held on 8 November 2022, at COP27.
Neira M, Erguler K, Ahmady-Birgani H, DaifAllah AL-Hmoud N, Fears R, Gogos C, et al. Climate change and human health in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East: Literature review, research priorities and policy suggestions. Environ Res. 2023 Jan 1; 216:114537. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2022.114537.
Dr. Marco Neira