Climate change is expected to result in warmer temperatures, longer and hotter summers, and more frequent and/or severe weather events such as hurricanes/tornadoes, thunderstorms, wildfires, floods and droughts. Climate change is likely to impact most areas of our lives, including our health. (Government of Canada, 2018).
Windsor and Essex County’s (WEC) Changing Climate
WEC has experienced the impacts of climate change in recent years such as record levels of precipitation and severe storms, which have led to widespread flooding events. There have also been periods of extended heat and the annual blue-green algae bloom in our lakes.
These changes have also created ideal conditions for the survival of invasive mosquito species and a greater presence of insects that carry diseases not commonly found in our region. We are the first region in Canada to identify adult Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and have had evidence of the presence of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes since 2016.
Both of these mosquitoes are vectors for viruses not normally seen in Canada, such as Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya.
How does climate change affect our health?
Climate change can impact our health in the following ways:
- Increase in temperatures, rainfall, and humidity can lead to an increase in the presence, type, and number of insects that carry diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
- More heat warnings during summer can lead to heat-related illness and hospitalizations and deaths.
- Poor air quality can make it harder to breathe, cause throat or lung irritation, or produce new or worsening episodes of your current heart or lung conditions.
- More exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to skin/eye damage and some cancers.
- Extreme weather (e.g., tornadoes, severe thunderstorms) can lead to flooding, property damage, injuries and illnesses, as well as community-wide emergencies.
- Changing climate will also affect water safety and food safety, as well as destroy crops and lead to disruptions in food production and distribution.
Who is most affected by climate change?
Everyone will feel the effects of climate change, but the health risks are higher for older adults, infants, young children, people with pre-existing heart conditions or respiratory illnesses, and those who are experiencing homelessness.
What are we doing about climate change?
The WECHU has already started to address, manage and respond to the effects of a changing climate. On November 21, 2019 the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health passed a Local Response to Climate Change Resolution to adopt and implement climate change initiatives and programs that support municipalities and local organizations, both public and private, to take climate action and raise the public’s awareness about the health impacts of climate change in order to drive individual behaviour change in support of climate change action.
The Health Unit has also begun the process of conducting a Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Assessment. The assessment will provide local evidence and understanding of the linkages between climate change and health within WEC, identify things we can do and where there are gaps in the system.
Data from this assessment will help to develop action plans for the various health impacts for our region.