When we think about climate change, we are used to thinking about water quantity — drought, flooding, extreme rainfall and things along those lines. Climate change is just as tightly linked to issues related to water quality, and it's not enough for the water to just be there, it has to be sustainable." -- Anna Michalak, professor of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, in The New York Times.
Water is a necessity of human life, and everyone deserves access to clean and safe water. After all, humans are made up of approximately 60 percent water. Unfortunately, climate change jeopardizes the quality and safety of our water. Warmer weather causes more water to evaporate, allowing the air to hold more water. This sets the stage for heavier rainfall and flooding, which decreases the quality of our water and increases health risks.
- Flooding: Climate change can lead to heavier rainfall and increased flooding. Flood waters can be comprised of a variety of harmful contaminants. In some cases, floods can overhaul a region’s drainage or wastewater treatment systems, increasing our risk of exposure to bacteria, parasites and other unhealthy toxins. This can contaminate the water we drink along with crops and other food we eat.
- Warmer Waters: As the earth’s temperature rises, surface water temperatures in lakes and oceans also rise. Warmer waters create a more hospitable environment for some harmful algae and other microbes to grow. Some algae produce toxins that are harmful when ingested. Not only does this contaminate our water, but also the fish we eat.
Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, yet some communities bear an inequitable burden of unsafe water. Children are especially susceptible to waterborne illness because they take in more water per body weight than adults, and their organ systems are still developing. Elderly people may be less resilient because many have preexisting chronic diseases that cause their immune system to be weakened. The aging infrastructure of our water system leaves low-income communities at higher risk of exposure as those communities may not have resources available to fix the problem. Our flood protection infrastructure must also be equipped to protect all communities. Consider Hurricane Katrina as an example: it was not the hurricane itself that resulted in mass destruction, but the flooding that led to property damage, injury and mold infestation/growth.
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CLIMATE CHANGE AND HEALTH SPOTLIGHTS