1. Disasters in today's world

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For a more complete analysis of the concentration of populations in urban centers, and the challenges that this represents in terms of increased risk for communities, see the World Disasters Report 2010 of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). For an overview of disaster risks in urban environments, read: Responding to urban disasters. Learning from previous relief and recovery operations.

As is the case with sustainable development, climate change, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is a change of climate directly or indirectly due to human activity that alters the composition of the planet’s atmosphere and adds to the natural variability of the climate as ascertained by observations made during different but comparable periods.

The Kyoto Conference on climate change, in December of 1997 committed countries globally to collective efforts, through 2012, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming by approximately 5% from their 1990 levels. (See official text of Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). 

The link between climate change and human health has been evident for some time. Climate change and human health – risks and responses, a study prepared by WHO, describes the process of global climate change, its present and future impact on human health, and the ways in which our societies can mitigate its adverse effects through strategies of adaptation and by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The figure below summarizes this relationship.


Ways in which climate change affects human health

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The World Health Organization, in the World Health Report 2002, estimated that climate change was responsible for approximately 2.4% of cases of diarrhea throughout the world in 2000, and for 6% of the cases of malaria in some middle-income countries. 

The first detectable changes in human health are likely to be changes in the geographic limits (latitude and altitude) and seasonality of certain infectious diseases—in particular, vector-borne diseases (such as malaria and dengue) and food-borne diseases (such as salmonellosis), which are most frequent in the warmest months. 

The actual health impact of climate change will depend a great deal on local environmental conditions and socioeconomic circumstances, as well as the various social, institutional, technological, and behavioral adaptations adopted to reduce the set of health hazards.  

With climate change, extreme climatic phenomena are expected to be more frequent. The impact of these disturbances is greater in poor countries. They fall into two categories: simple extremes of statistical climatic intervals, such as very low or high temperatures, and complex phenomena such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes.