Climate Change Hits Vulnerable Populations the Hardest

Climate change is a reality that threatens the lives of the most vulnerable populations, including future generations. Keep reading to find out how to minimize its impact.
Climate Change Hits Vulnerable Populations the Hardest

Last update: 30 July, 2021

Vulnerable populations are often the victims of many injustices.

Climate change refers to a process of variation in atmospheric and environmental conditions in general, which translates into various consequences related to air, water, and soil quality.

In the current context, a variety of factors, including the increase in greenhouse gases due to the persistent use of fossil fuels, are accelerating the process. However, this poses a threat to the diversity of life forms on the planet.

What is climate change?

Climate is a system influenced by certain factors: latitude, humidity, winds, height above sea level, ocean currents. Some of these factors can be modified and others not so much.

Nature regulates the climate so that it stays within certain parameters. However, when conditions change persistently over time, we begin to speak of climate change or variability.

Accordingly, climate change is a variation in the average climate of a region in the medium or long term. It may be due to natural processes (such as solar or volcanic activity) and anthropogenic factors, i.e., polluting human actions.

Climate changes have always taken place on the planet throughout history, but they’ve been slow and gradual. Today, however, specialists are alarmed because it’s happening very fast, and neither ecosystems nor humans are prepared to face it.

Among the causes of this are greenhouse gas emissions. Transport using fossil fuels and agricultural and industrial activity emits these gases.

Health consequences of climate change

We can already observe climate change. There’s global warming and melting of the polar ice caps, which in turn affects sea levels and ocean currents. There are also changes in precipitation (extreme rainfall and then severe droughts).

In turn, the effects of climate change on people’s health are diverse. These include the following:

  • Studies show that during heat waves, mortality from cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular diseases increases.
  • According to the Food Security Information Network report, disasters caused by climate change impact food production, driving hunger and increasing diseases associated with malnutrition and undernutrition.
  • With respect to mosquito-borne diseases, research concludes that Aedes proliferation is influenced by environmental conditions.
  • There’s an increase in infectious diarrhea and other diseases associated with the consumption of contaminated water or with the reduction of sources of the vital liquid for hygiene.
  • Studies reveal an increase in asthma due to environmental contamination.
A sick woman
Air pollution worsens respiratory diseases, resulting in a higher prevalence of asthma episodes.

Populations most vulnerable to climate change

Climate change impacts the economic and productive apparatus, affecting electricity supply, communication routes, homes, industries, and institutions. It limits people’s access to goods and services.

This may harm everyone, but not equally. We must recognize that there are populations that are more vulnerable to climate change, which are often the first to suffer the consequences.

According to the document entitled Climate Change and Social Inequality, published by the United Nations, there are three aspects in which this vulnerability is evidenced, understood as propensity, predisposition, or risk of being negatively affected by the effects of climate change:

  1. Greater exposure
  2. Greater susceptibility to suffering from damage
  3. Lower capacity to recover

Ethnic minorities

Ethnic minorities usually live on the periphery of large cities or in suburbs, even in developed countries. Some are migrant communities or those displaced by conflict.

These groups are already victims of inequities in access to health services. And climate change may intensify or highlight such inequalities.

Related to this, research published in 2015 found that the mortality rate in children from African-American families was higher during heat waves in the state of California (United States).

People in poverty

Whether they belong to ethnic minorities or not, most people in poverty live in low-lying coastal areas or on mountain slopes. These lands are less expensive, but at the same time unsafe, unstable and constantly exposed to flooding or landslides.

Rural populations

The majority of the rural population depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Such farming is more precarious and vulnerable to climate change.

In addition, these families living in poor rural areas tend to occupy the least productive land that’s most likely to be affected by floods or droughts. They’re left without protection and don’t have irrigation systems.

Indigenous people

Although their lifestyle has little impact on the environment, indigenous groups have also been affected by climate change. They tend to live in jungle or remote areas, with no communication routes; they’re often left in isolation by weather phenomena.

The need to curb climate change

Halting climate change is more than necessary; it’s unavoidable and cannot be postponed. We must remember that just as there are vulnerable populations, there are also sensitive ecosystems; even entire countries. The planet is fragile.

Climate change has an impact on people, the productive apparatus, and ecosystems. Human life, flora, and fauna have a relation to the climate, as they depend on it.

To make progress in reducing the impact of climate change, we must begin by considering the vulnerability of populations and ecosystems, taking into account the main factors:

  • Reducing sensitivity: Some groups and systems are more sensitive to suffer the impact of climate change. Keeping them healthy makes them less vulnerable.
  • Improving adaptive capacity: This also helps to reduce vulnerability, providing mechanisms to resist eventual disturbances.
  • Increasing resilience: This is the capacity of an organism or system to return to its initial state after a disturbance. In this case, we mean the capacity of a population or ecosystem to recover after a catastrophic event.
impact of climate change
Sudden climatic changes affect vulnerable populations to a greater extent, as they’re exposed and less protected.

How can we mitigate climate change and its impacts?

The main culprits of climate change are greenhouse gases. The equation is simple: the higher the emissions, the greater the warming, and vice versa.

And in this case, we can’t say that we can’t take action. Let’s start by using our cars as little as possible. We can agree with neighbors or co-workers or walk, take the subway, or bicycle.

It’s also important to prevent deforestation, since the vegetation layer absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, helping to maintain the temperature and conserve soils.

Almost all human activities have an impact on warming. Although they can’t prevent it, it’s possible to reduce the impact. In the case of agriculture, for example, it’s part of the problem, since it emits greenhouse gases (by machinery, for example).

However, we can also be part of the solution if we implement good practices within the framework of a sustainable vision. In the case of soils, for example, we can achieve this by diversifying crops or avoiding the use of pesticides.

There are so many other small, daily, but decisive actions, such as recycling, using cloth bags instead of plastic, turning off lights and equipment that we aren’t using, or simply not wasting water.

It’s in your hands

The most vulnerable are the first to experience the effects of climate change, but we shouldn’t for one second believe that we’re exempt from suffering them ourselves. The planet is one and we’re the ones living in it. Everything that affects it will harm us sooner or later.

We’ll continue to feel global warming and the various consequences related to climate change for some time, even if we stop greenhouse gas emissions. They’ll remain in the atmosphere for a long time to come.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t do anything. If we all work to reduce our carbon footprint, we’ll leave the best legacy for the future…because there will be one.

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