Reaching everyday people, based on values, religion and health

Excerpt from Deutsche Welle, Nov 2019

DW’s Director General Peter Limbourg (main picture) told the Karachi Eco Islam conference that it was high time to bring religion into the climate-change discussion. “Religious leaders have a great reach to the common people. Sometimes even the government and media can’t influence them that way. It is also important to remind people that environmental protection has always been emphasized by their religions,” Limbourg said.

“We, as a media organization, can offer a lot. We can initiate dialogues. But we don’t want to teach people what to do; we can just put forward ideas with which they can protect their environment,” DW’s director general added.

Read more: Pakistan’s dams threaten mangroves and livelihoods

Moshin Naqvi, an Islamic scholar, is of the view that Islamic scriptures can inspire people to become environment-friendly.

“If we look at the teachings of Islam, we find many examples of environmental protection. For instance, Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims to take care of other human beings, animals and even trees. Humans are not allowed to damage the ecosystem,” Naqvi explained.

“DW’s initiative provides a platform for people of different faiths to discuss the issue of climate change. But we need to reach out to the masses. These dialogues usually target an educated class; we need to communicate with the common person,” Naqvi added.

Read more: Water crisis: Why is Pakistan running dry?

Debarati Guha, head of DW Asia, said that environmental protection is at the core of all religious teachings

Debarati Guha, head of DW Asia, said environmental protection was at the core of all religious teachings

Aggravating climate problem

Pakistan is facing a number of challenges due to environmental degradation and climate change. Global warming has resulted in longer and harsher summers, and water scarcity in the South Asian country has been dubbed a bigger threat than terrorism.

Read more: Water wars: Are India and Pakistan heading for climate change-induced conflict?

Wide-ranging urbanization and cutting of trees has greatly increased air pollution in the past few decades. On Friday, Amnesty International warned that tens of thousands of Lahore city residents were at risk of respiratory disease due to the poor air quality. Amnesty blamed rising smog levels on the Pakistani government’s insufficient response.

Murtaza Wahab, the environment adviser to Sindh province’s chief minister, admitted that climate change had not been properly addressed in his country. “It is a neglected sector in Pakistan. But now we are dealing with this issue seriously. Recently, we approved a climate-change policy that aims at increasing the public-private partnership to protect the environment. We have also banned the use of single-use plastic,” Wahab said.

Pakistani environmentalist Tofiq Pasha Mooraj says, however, that Pakistani authorities “don’t have time to address climate change.”

“But I must add that in recent times, the authorities are being forced to pay a bit more attention to the climate problems because they have become more visible and are affecting people’s lives,” Mooraj said.

The environmental activist also said that people must not always look to the government to fix their problems. “We are a country of 220 million people. If every individual saves a drop of water every day, we can possibly save 220 million drops of water every day.”


By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children’s lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world’s children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

“Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen progressive decline in the numbers of deaths for all people and indeed for children,” Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown, told DW. “But what we’re worrying about is that all of these gains could go into reverse if we don’t urgently tackle the problem of climate change.”

The research — compiled by 35 global institutions, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank —clearly shows the relationship between climate change, environmental destruction and health. Rising temperatures fuel hunger and malnutrition, an increase in the scale and scope of infectious disease and a growing frequency of extreme weather events, while air pollution has become as deadly to the human lung as smoking tobacco.

Under current emissions, children born today will live in a 4°C warmer world by the age of 71, the report says.

Difficult Access to Food

A baby born today will be exposed to the impacts of climate change from the very start of its life.
Rising temperatures coupled with drought and flooding devastate crops, causing global yields to decline. This deprives people of their livelihoods and pushes up food prices, which in turn leads to hunger and malnutrition, particularly in countries heavily reliant on agriculture, such as Burkina Faso.

“Acute malnutrition in five-year-old children in Burkina Faso is over 10%,” Maurice Ye, a native to the country and advisor to the National Malaria Control Program in Madagascar, told DW. “This will increase if nothing is done to address the problem.”

In India, malnutrition is already the reason for two thirds of deaths in children under the age of five, the Lancet report states.

Although malnutrition is often linked to hunger, it can also be the result of eating too much unhealthy food. As staples such as grains and rice face price hikes, consumers are motivated to buy cheaper, processed foods instead.

“That feeds into the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, which is that of overweight and obesity,” Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India and contributing author of the report, told DW.

A Deadly Breeding Ground

Under-fives will also suffer most from the increase in infectious diseases. Rising temperatures, warming waters, changing rainfall patterns and high levels of humidity facilitate the spread of bacteria leading to diarrheal diseases such as cholera, and also create ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes carrying malaria or dengue fever.

In 2017, there were an estimated 435,000 deaths from malaria globally and every two minutes a child somewhere in the world dies from the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

This is of particular concern for countries such as Burkina Faso, where malaria caused over 28,000 deaths in 2018 alone, the WHO estimates.

But climate change will also allow these disease-carrying mosquitoes to reach new countries, such as those in southern Europe.

Around half of the world’s population is now at risk from dengue disease, the Lancet report says.

If children survive malnutrition and infectious diseases, the research continues, they might not be spared devastating air pollution. This can corrupt their lung function, worsen asthma and increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Outdoor air pollution — from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — already contributes to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide.

Extreme weather events are also becoming the new normal in European countries.

Heat and Cold Hit Hard

The health of a child born today could equally be damaged by extreme weather events such as wildfires and heat waves.

152 out of 196 countries have experienced an increase in people exposed to wildfires since 2001, which has resulted in direct deaths and respiratory illness. Record-breaking high temperatures, in turn, are of particular concern for elderly people over 65-years-old.

“Heat health impacts include heat exhaustion, heat stroke and aggravation of already existing morbidities from cardiovascular illness and respiratory illness,” Prabhakaran said.

Heat can also lead to dehydratation in children and the elderly, experts say.

Although the world is warming, cold also represents a risk for people with little or no access to energy. “It kills more people than the heat overall,” Costello said. “But a lot of that is due to social factors.”

As inequalities are growing worldwide, more people find themselves in situations of vulnerability, he said.

An Urgent Coal Phase-Out

Prabhakaran hopes health impacts will be the turning point for reluctant policy makers.

“What we need to do is bring health in the center of discourse, the health impacts of fossil fuel combustion can be a strong argument for phasing out coal,” she said.

The three experts agree that the first step to reducing the suffering of every child born today is a shift to a decarbonized world. It is technically feasible, they say, but will take tougher policies and genuine political will. Inaction is no longer an option.

“It’s set to get much, much worse unless we take immediate action,” Costello said.

Reposted with permission from DW.