Intended for healthcare professionals


Climate change: health effects and response in South Asia

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 16 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5117
  1. Banalata Sen, adviser1,
  2. Meghnath Dhimal, senior research officer2,
  3. Aishath Thimna Latheef, national professional officer3,
  4. Upasona Ghosh, senior research officer4
  1. 1Centre for Environmental Health, Public Health Foundation of India, Gurugram, India
  2. 2Nepal Health Research Council, Kathmandu, Nepal
  3. 3World Health Organization Country Office, Male, Maldives
  4. 4Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
  1. Correspondence to: B Sen banalata.sen{at}

Banalata Sen and colleagues call for urgent and inclusive action to address health impacts of climate change in South Asia

Extreme weather events such as cyclones, flooding, and heat spells in South Asia have drawn attention to the effect of climate change on human life and our lack of preparedness. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation coupled with high population density contribute to emission of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide (CO2), which lead to a rise in temperature. This has altered precipitation patterns and led to a rise in sea levels.1 The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that key risks for the region are widespread damage to human life, infrastructure, and livelihoods from riverine, coastal, and urban flooding; heat related mortality; and drought related water and food shortage causing malnutrition.1

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded that although climate change was the biggest public health threat of the 21st century, tackling it could be the greatest global health opportunity.2 All South Asian countries have ratified the Paris agreement, committing to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop systems to respond to the effects of climate change.3 However, climate change is not yet given priority in countries’ health agendas. The effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society is also often neglected in the climate change discourse.

We examine the health effects of climate change in South Asian countries and current strategies to address these, and recommend an inclusive approach to climate change adaptation planning in the region.

How health is affected by extreme weather events

The complex topography of the region, including high mountains, plains, long coastlines, and low lying islands, increases its vulnerability to extreme weather events (table 1). The recent flash floods in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India, reportedly …

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