The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

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6.3.5. Human Health

Health has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Different aspects of this well-being are related to weather and climate; primarily, however, it depends fully on the community's welfare. Because Latin America has a large tropical and subtropical environment, its inhabitants already are exposed to a number of infectious diseases and pests typical of these zones. The most vulnerable communities are those living in poverty, those with a high prevalence of undernutrition, and those with chronic exposure to infectious disease agents (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 18.1.3). As a result, an increasing number of people who are living under these critical conditions in Latin America would be affected if, as expected, global warming aggravates disease and pest-transmission processes. Table 6-8 provides data on the estimated number of undernourished people in Latin America.

Table 6-8: Estimated number of undernourished people in Latin America for 1969-71, 1979-81, and 1983-85.

Population (millions)
Share of Population (%)


Source: UN World Food Council (WFC), Thirteenth Ministerial Session, Beijing, China, 1987.

The major potential health impacts have been classified as "direct" and "indirect" impacts, according to whether they occur predominantly via the direct effect of exacerbated values of one or more climate variables (e.g., temperature, precipitation, solar radiation) on the human organism or are mediated by climate-induced changes in complex biogeochemical processes or climatic influences on other environmental health hazards.

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