Over half of the Indian population is vulnerable to health threats spurred on by climate change

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Over half of the Indian population is vulnerable to health threats spurred on by climate change
Everyone experiences climate change, but its effects are hardly evenly distributed. Those with better living conditions, education, secure work, and access to social safety nets have the luxury of being able to adapt and mitigate the consequences better. But for those living on the margins, with insecure livelihoods and limited access to healthcare, the risks are significantly higher.
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India, in particular, faces a grave challenge: climate change-induced health vulnerability. Prolonged summers, unpredictable rains, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels are the harsh realities of climate change in the country. These factors increase the frequency and severity of illnesses, pushing people into poverty, and forcing migration.

A new study published in Climatic Change sheds light on the grim future of Indians. Using 50 indicators across 640 Indian districts, researchers mapped exposure, sensitivity to the hot weather and adaptive capacities (ACs) to gauge health vulnerability. The findings are stark:
  • 298 districts, housing 52% of the population, face high or very high exposure.
  • 184 districts, home to 30% of the population, are highly or very sensitive.
  • 153 districts, where 20% of the population lives, have moderate or low ACs.

Further, the study’s authors also identified 38 districts with very high vulnerability, 306 with high vulnerability, 278 with moderate vulnerability, and 18 with low vulnerability. States with the highest number of vulnerable districts include Uttar Pradesh (37), Rajasthan (15), and Madhya Pradesh (3).

India's climate crisis demands a radical shift in development thinking. The old models cannot protect millions facing health risks like never before. This study is a wake-up call, a crucial step in understanding and addressing the complex challenges of climate change and health in India. It's time to move beyond awareness and towards action, building a more equitable and resilient future for all.

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The researchers highlight some multi-sectoral policy responses to address the underlying causes of vulnerability:
Investing in health: Increased public spending on health could significantly reduce out-of-pocket expenditure and improve access to primary healthcare, especially in vulnerable districts with high infant mortality and poor child health.
Addressing social determinants of health: Providing sustainable livelihoods, improving working conditions, expanding social safety nets, and boosting education can reduce sensitivity and enhance adaptive capacity.
Strengthening data systems: Robust, dynamic data systems are crucial for effective policymaking. Improved data sharing, collaboration, and trust within the healthcare system are essential.
Empowering local communities: Engaging institutions of local self-governance in the climate and health agenda is crucial for effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Holding the system accountable: Increased accountability of the health system to the people is essential for ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare.

The findings of this study have been detailed in Climate Change and can be accessed here.
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