Geneva, 8 July 2014 (WHO/WMO) - The World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization have joined forces to tackle the increasing risks to human health posed by weather and climate hazards such as extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones.
A new WHO/WMO Climate and Health office has been established under the auspices of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to promote the coordinated development and use of climate services to improve public health. It will increase awareness, build capacity, and connect meteorological services with experts in the health sector in an active partnership for climate adaptation and risk management.
“There have been great strides in both climate and health science in recent years. By working together we can maximize the benefits of these advances for the greatest possible number of people,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Climate change is leading to an increase in extreme events such as heat-waves and heavy rains which have a major impact on human health. We need to have a common understanding of the challenges we face in order to overcome them.”
The move comes in response to increasing demand from the health community for improved access to climate and weather products like regional climate predictions, hazard warnings and seasonal outlooks needed to understand and manage health risks related to weather and climate and to cope with a shifting burden of disease due to climate change. The office will ensure that there is in-house health expertise at WMO and a focal point for liaison with WHO and other health partners.
“Millions of people each year are affected by extreme weather events such as heat and cold waves, tropical cyclones, floods, and droughts. These events also damage or destroy health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure, and result in unnecessary deaths and illness,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health. “Yet the most significant impacts often occur indirectly and more slowly, such as under-nutrition resulting from crop failure, respiratory diseases from poor air quality, and water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Climate-informed preparedness and prevention can greatly reduce these health risks. “
Climate-smart health systems
Climate-smart health systems and services not only save lives but help increase the efficient use of limited resources by identifying and targeting vulnerable populations. For example, sand and dust forecasts are being used in the Sahel to target meningitis vaccination drives in the areas at highest risk. Seasonal climate outlooks can be effectively used in malaria control campaigns.
However, a longstanding challenge for the health community has been the ability to access, understand and apply available climate information. Likewise, climate services community often does not fully appreciate public health concerns and needs. In the past there was little dialogue between the two sectors. The new climate and health office is an important step to help bridge this gap.
Stronger collaboration at the global and local levels is essential if relevant, reliable and user-friendly climate information is to effectively strengthen disease surveillance and improve preparedness for health emergencies and outbreaks of climate-related diseases such as cholera or dengue fever.The WMO/WHO Joint Office will help to achieve the goals of the Global Framework for Climate services, an ambitious international initiative which seeks to improve and expand climate and weather services such as seasonal forecasts and drought monitors, and support their uptake by key sectors such as health, food security, water and disaster risk reduction. The Global Framework for Climate Services was one of the top items on the agenda of WMO’s yearly Executive Council 18 to 27 June.
Global Framework for Climate Services
The joint office will provide support in four main areas. Firstly, it will ensure that the potential contribution of meteorological services are reflected in international health policy fora, such as the World Health Assembly, and forthcoming WHO conference on health and climate in August 2014. It will also propose a strategic roadmap for WMO and the meteorological community to better support the health sector to access and use climate information and services.
Secondly, the Office will provide coordination, resource mobilization, and technical support to demonstration projects and research, beginning with the new Climate Services Adaptation Programmes in Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania. This initiative will support collaboration between health partners and the national meteorological departments, to make better use of weather information and seasonal forecasts to enhance risk assessment and preparedness for diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and undernutrition.Thirdly, the joint office will strengthen coordination and collaborative initiatives between WHO and WMO, and with the wider community of practice for climate service action for health. Fourthly, the office will provide communications and capacity development by developing awareness raising and technical guidance materials, building on the successful cooperation between WHO and WMO in the publication of The Atlas of Health and Climate in 2012, and forthcoming guidance on developing heat-health early warning systems