Incorporating Public Awareness into Climate Change Health Planning

By Carmit Rapaport & Isaac Ashkenazi

Public awareness – the missing link

Climate change is a global issue and its immediate and long-term health effects are significant and severe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2016), "Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress". Further, "the direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030"[1]. Despite the mitigation and adaptation efforts taken by governments, international organizations and local NGOs, the involvement of the public, as an important and central actor in these efforts, is missing. By gaining public's awareness, cooperation and commitment the coping ability can be improved, health risks can be reduced, and lives will be saved. It is fundamental in the public health practice that the public should be informed regarding any risk or threat that might affect its health and wellbeing (Kass, 2005). Communicating the possible risks to health caused by climate change is one of the basic and immediate missions of governments and the UN (WHO, 2016[2]). Without the public's awareness, understanding of accessible scientific and technical information, and support for government's regulations and actions, people will not make appropriate decisions (Maibach et al., 2015) that will protect their health and minimize the devastating health risks and damage caused by climate change's phenomena such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and storms. Hence, there is a growing need to evaluate the effectiveness of communication channels by which climate change health consequences will be delivered to the general public and to vulnerable groups (such as minority groups, elderly, disabled etc), in particular.

Hence, disaster planning must also incorporate the important link between climate change and public health from the perspective of the public awareness and risk perceptions. By studying the public's knowledge, attitudes and risk perceptions towards climate change, governments and international health organizations will be able to better adjust the risk communication efforts, and design appropriate, cost-effective and most important – behavior changing policy and regulation.

[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/ (retrieved: September, 2016)

[2] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/ (retrieved: September, 2016)