India ill prepared to protect citizens from devastating health impacts of climate change, reveals report

The 2021 WHO health and climate change survey report has provided a vital snapshot of the overall progress that governments around the world have made in the field of health and climate change to date

Climate change makes Indian monsoon rains stronger
Climate change makes Indian monsoon rains stronger
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Dr Gyan Pathak

India is not yet prepared to protect its citizens from the possibility of devastating health impacts of climate change, though it is one of the worst suffer country in the world, the latest global survey report just published at the COP26 UN climate conference has revealed.

The 2021 WHO health and climate change survey report has provided a vital snapshot of the overall progress that governments around the world have made in the field of health and climate change to date as well as an insight into what work remains to be done in order to protect their populations from the adverse effects of climate change. India was one of the 95 countries which participated in the survey.

The report shows that India has conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment, but no other information was given to the WHO regarding the year of compilation of the latest assessment. India did not even respond to two most important questions – First, did the results of the latest assessment result in the development of new or revision of existing health policies or programmes? Second, did the result of the latest assessment influence the allocation of human and financial resources within the Ministry of Health to address health risks of climate change?

Thus, it can safely be concluded that India is not yet ready to tackle any emergency situation arising due to the impact of climate change.

It should be noted that the health and climate change country survey is conducted every three years and in addition to tackling global progress, the national data is presented in the health and climate change country profiles. The survey was sent to the national health authorities who, in collaboration with other relevant ministries and stakeholders, provided updated information on key areas including leadership and governance, national vulnerability and adaptation assessments, emergency preparedness, disease surveillance, adaptation and resilience measures, climate and health finance, and mitigation in the health sector.

The report also presents regular updates on key health and climate change indicators that provide insight into the implementation of policies and plans, the status of assessments of health vulnerability and capacity to respond to climate change and better understand the barriers to achieving health adaptation and mitigations priorities.

The report shows that India does have a national health and climate change plan/strategy in place, and it was shown to have been completed only in the current year, 2021. However, the level of implementation of the national health and climate change or strategy has been given three out of four points, which means high level of action being taken on a majority of the plan/strategy priorities.

India has provided no information on the question, “Are climate change and health considerations included in COVID-19 recovery package in your country?” This gives rise to doubts about its performance in this regard. It suggests that the governments has done nothing in this regard, and hence needs to address the issue urgently.

Does the Ministry of Health have a designated focal point responsible for health and climate change? And has it established a multi-stakeholder mechanism on health and climate change that is currently operational, e.g. task force or committee? The Government of India has answered both the questions in affirmative.

Agriculture, education, energy, environment and national meteorological and hydrological services are considered the major health determining sectors. To the question whether there is a joint memorandum of understanding or other agreement in place between the Ministry of Health and the sector/ministry which defines specific roles and responsibilities in relation to health and climate change policy or programmes, the Government of India has given a reply in affirmative for all sectors save education. Therefore, it is imperative that education should also be made part of the plan and strategy.


The report has found that only 67 per cent countries have as yet conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one.

A total of 77 per cent of the countries have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies. However, implementation is impeded by insufficient financing, human resource constraints, and limited research, evidence, technologies and tools.

About half (52 per cent) of the countries reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on their work to protect health from climate change, diverting health personnel and resources and slowing the implementation of protective measures.

Just one third of countries (33 per cent) have taken the opportunity to include climate change and health considerations in their plans for recovery from COVID-19.

As for multi-sectoral collaboration on policies and programmes related to health and climate change, over 75 per cent of the countries have established coordination mechanism which included representation from stakeholders or sectors addressing the environmental determinants of health, such as safe water, sanitation, and hygiene services, clean air and meteorological services.

However, representation of stakeholders or sectors focused on the structural and social determinants of health such as education, urban planning, housing, energy and transportations systems was found in the range of 40-50 per cent.

Less than 40 per cent of the countries currently include weather and climate information in their health surveillance systems for climate sensitive diseases. Those who have included only vector-borne, waterborne, airborne, or respiratory diseases.

Only 33 per cent of the countries have heat-related illness and only 30 per cent for injury and mortality from extreme weather events despite strong evidence that these risks are increasing around the world.

Only 42 per cent countries have conducted training to their health workers for climate related health risks, and therefore further efforts are needed to ensure the capacity-building of the health workforce as suggested by the report. Moreover, only 27 per cent countries have conducted assessments of the climate resilience of their healthcare facilities.

The report suggests that more access to international funds including multilateral climate funds should be provided to the low and lower middle income countries, since only 28 per cent of them are presently able to access them. Moreover, the funds need to be substantially increased.

(IPA Service)

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