WHO warns of disaster as global warming reaches ‘critical’ stage


Kuala Lumpur : The World Health Organization Monday warned that global policy makers must act quickly to address the critical problem of global warming, or face serious health and economic consequences.

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Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific region, said the current crisis was masked by the fact that global warming issues did not present as much a tangible problem to many governments, as compared to immediate health problems such as communicable diseases.

However, he warned that the international community needed to take the issues seriously to avert what would be definite health implications caused by global warming.

"For environmental issues, if you wait for the crash to happen, it's already too late.

"We know it is just a matter of time, and unless we take measures disaster will come," Omi told reporters at the sidelines of a four-day WHO workshop on climate change, held in Malaysia's capital.

"So far, it's already causing health issues, but if this trend continues, it will upset the economies of the world," he said.

"We should not wait for that to happen."

Earlier, Omi told delegates that climate change has been responsible for adversely affecting the health and lives of populations across Asia, from destruction of crops to increasing rate of diseases.

"Increasing temperatures are among the variables that affect malaria and the disease is emerging in places where it did not exist before," he said in his opening speech.

Omi cited that in Singapore, the annual temperature rose by 1.5 degrees centigrade in 20 years. In the corresponding times, the number of the mosquito-borne dengue fever cases increased more than 10-fold from 384 in 1978 to 5,258 in 1998.

The WHO had released a statement last week saying that an estimated 77,000 deaths are recorded annually in the Asia-Pacific region due to health problems arising from global warming.

The health agency also estimates that about one quarter of the global burden of disease is due to modifiable environmental factors including climate change.

"The global community has become more and more aware of the environmental issues," said Omi.

"Certainly, the level is higher than say three years ago.

"But a lot more political will is needed. Now is the time to give more attention and focus to global warming issues," he told reporters.

More than 60 health experts have gathered in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the effects of increasing global temperatures. Key findings of the workshop would be shared at a ministerial meeting in Bangkok on August 8 and 9.