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Posted : 2010-09-20 19:22
Updated : 2010-09-20 19:22

Climate change triggers epidemics

By Kim Tae-gyu

Global warming is not just about tolerating the sweltering nights over the summer ― it has important health-related consequences as rising temperatures facilitate the fast spread of epidemic diseases.

The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) announced Sunday that a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature leads to a 4.27-percent jump in the prevalence of various epidemics.

``For most people, a 1 degree rise in temperature may not seem like much. However, it could mean that they become by far more vulnerable to infectious diseases,’’ an official at the KIHASA said.

``In extreme cases, a 1 degree rise in temperature resulted in as much as a 6 percent increase in the spread of diseases. Overall, high temperatures are seemingly responsible for more brisk activities of viruses.’’

The state-run think-tank traced occurrences of a total of five epidemics during three years from 2005 through 2007 including malaria, bacillary dysentery and enteritis caused by vibrio.

The Seoul-based KIHASA also checked demographical differences by tracking the correlations between the risks of intestinal inflammation with climate change.

Overall, the outfit found that a 1 degree rise in temperature saw 6.84 percent more people suffer from intestinal inflammation and senior citizens in particular were found to be more susceptible.

This is bad news for Koreans as the country is expected to see a sharp rise of ambient temperatures in the long run, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.

The weather agency predicted that the number of summer days would increase by nine days in 2040 compared to the 1990s while days in winter would go decrease by eight.

Things will be far more serious during the waning years of this century ― summer is projected to be extended by one month in 2090 at the expense of winter.

The effect is already being felt here as many claim that the climate of the southern Korean Peninsula is fast changing to a sub-tropical one with hotter temperatures and larger annual precipitation.

In addition, new species that live in sub-tropical temperatures have moved to the peninsula and they are feared to generate unprecedented problems.

It is hard to reverse global warming, which experts believe is prompted by the huge amount of carbon emissions over the past few centuries and the resultant greenhouse effect.

Countries have tried to reduce carbon emissions under a global initiative through not burning fossil fuels en masse. Yet, they struggle to contain the emissions and remain under their targets.

``We need to understand that the rise in temperatures have crucial consequences on our health. Then, we will be required to come up with a long-term plan to deal with the woes it causes,’’ the KIHASA said.