Climate change and health & welfare of Solomon Islanders

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DEAR EDITOR, the Solomon Islands contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is negligible, but—like it’s neighbouring other Small Island Developing States—it is already suffering disproportionately the effects of global warming.

It was outlined at the Cop23 meeting held in Bonn in November 2017 that the future of human habitation and agricultural production in Solomon Islands depends on its ability to adapt to and mitigate temperature increase, sea-level rise, warming seas, and over-exploitation.

What we know already (quoting from the Bonn meeting)

“There has been an increase in temperatures between 0.12 and 0.18 degrees Centigrade per decade since the 1950s. This increase threatens agricultural production, including the main exports of copra and palm oil. In addition, the increase in temperatures threatens subsistence agriculture production for the local people, endangering food security.

“The sea level has risen an average of 8 mm per year, well above global projections. The rise threatens local communities as the majority of Solomon Islanders live near the coastline at sea level. The higher ground in Solomon Islands is volcanic and mountainous, ill-suited for human habitation and agricultural production. Coastal flooding has increased, with the Western province, the Roviana region, especially at risk due to its population density.

“Coral reefs and the larger surrounding areas are under threat from the rapid increase of acidity levels in sea water. With temperatures and acidification expected to continue increasing, migratory patterns may be altered and local reef populations may die out, negatively impacting the fishing industry and exports.

“The harvesting and logging of timber is past the point of over exploitation. Logging began in the 1930s and has continued at an increasing pace. In 2005, the export of round log reached 1 million cubic metres, four times the sustainable allowable cut limit estimated by the government and outside observers. A national inventory took place in 2006 to assess the timber market. The Inventory predicted a rapid and complete depletion of timber by 2015. A majority of the citizens of Solomon Islands used timber to cook with and heat their homes, an activity that has now been virtually eliminated. The depletion of local forests may alter local watersheds and increase the risk of flooding for local communities. The lack of windbreak provided by forests also exposes cleared land and villages to stronger winds, endangering agriculture and putting settled areas at greater risk in storms.

“Solomon Islands is working with the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy to focus on resilience and mitigation under the Roviana Climate Change Resilience Plan 2013-2017. The plan intends to map the vulnerability of marine and coastal habitats to climate change; assess coral reef, seagrass, and mangrove health; survey coral bleaching and disease; measure water quality and flow; document coastal gardens and forests and identify issues affecting the adaptive capacity of the people.”

It was at the same Bonn Conference that Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said (quote)

“I want the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to come up with a rule that no one is allowed to talk about climate change without talking about health.”

Following up on what Mr. Schwarzenegger said, in a paper written by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu and published in the Bull World Health Organ in February 2018, it went into much greater detail what I regard as a serious concern for the ongoing health and welfare needs of the Solomon Islanders given the already profound impact of climate change.

I will quote extracts from Mr. Ghebreyesu’s article to underscore my concerns.

“Climate change is much more than an environmental issue. It poses a serious threat to our health and survival. It impacts all of us, no matter where we live.

“The health of humanity is directly related to the health of our environment. We depend on our environment for everything we are and everything we have – the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink.

“Climate change increases the risks of extreme weather events that cause damage to our lives and livelihoods. Climate change fuels the spread of infectious disease such as malaria, dengue and cholera; it also increases the risk of no communicable diseases by polluting the air, food and water that sustain life.

“Climate change is not a futuristic scenario that is unlikely to happen in our lifetime. People are feeling its impact right now in many parts of the

“Sadly, those who contribute least to the causes of climate change bear the most severe brunt of its impact. People living on small islands are on the front line of the impacts of climate change.

“Small island states, where an estimated 65 million people live, have long been recognized as especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.Their situation is highlighted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, by Ministers of Health at the 2008 World Health Assembly and in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“At the COP23, in partnership with the Fijian Presidency, WHO and the UN Climate Change secretariat launched a special initiative to protect people living in small island developing states from the health impacts of climate change.

“The initiative has four main goals to be achieved by 2030, aligning with the deadline for the sustainable development goals.

“First, to support health leaders in small island developing states in drawing greater attention to the threats these nations face.

“Second, to gather evidence to build the business case for investments that combat the health effects of climate change.

“Third, to prepare for climate risks through preparedness and prevention policies and to build climate-proof health systems.

“Fourth, to triple the current financial support for climate and health in small island developing states.

“Despite years of talk, the international response remains weak. Less than 1.5% of international finance for climate change adaptation is allocated to health projects, and small island developing states receive only a fraction of these resources.

“Unless countries fully implement the Paris Agreement, climate change is going to increasingly threaten the health and well being of people everywhere.”

A large number of reported deaths in the Solomon Islands are attributed to non-communicable diseases brought on by the avoidance of traditional foods to rice and imported processed foods, resulting in Vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, strokes and obesity.

If food security becomes threatened by climate change, as is predicted to occur, then turning to processed foods will only add to the health issues being occasioned already.

As less than 1.5 % of international finance is said to be being made available for climate change adaption, the optimistic vision that some country’s will be able to withstand climate change and provide adequate health care is not looking good and it is my hope that the Solomon Islands will very soon be able to access substantial funding to protect and care for the health needs of all its people.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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