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University of Tartu researchers help mitigate health impacts of climate change in African countries

Climate change is hardest on third-world countries, which are less prepared than developed countries to adapt to the consequences. The University of Tartu is participating in an international project to help African countries better understand the health impacts of climate change and to develop adaptation measures.

The EU's Horizon 2020 research project ENBEL, led by European research institutions, shares research on the health impacts of climate change and mitigation options with African countries. It also helps to develop policies to mitigate the societal risks associated with climate change.

From the University of Tartu, Professor of Environmental Health Hans Orru is involved in the project. According to Orru, in Africa, climate change is often seen primarily as an environmental issue, and its impact on society and the wider health system tends to be overlooked. Unfortunately, in addition to food production, climate change is also reflected in the deterioration of the quality and availability of drinking water, rising average temperatures, higher prevalence of infectious diseases and poorer air quality. "African countries need to take increasing account of these worsening problems and look for solutions," said Orru. He says the consequences are already being felt, and within some decades, there will be another quarter of a million premature deaths a year.

"We know that the impact of climate change is unevenly distributed around the world, and that coping with it varies depending on the economic situation of countries. Climate change is likely to exacerbate existing divisions within societies and increase social problems as poorer people suffer more than the more affluent. This is a particularly painful issue in African countries," said Orru.

An international conference was held in Botswana on 24–25 August, attended by nearly 100 experts from East, West and Southern Africa. They shared their experiences on how health policies have been developed in the region in the face of climate change, and what prevention and mitigation measures have been put in place to reduce the adverse health impacts on people in the region. These issues will be discussed again at the international conference on Connecting Health and Climate Change, to be held in Stockholm on 11–12 October.

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