Socio-economic vulnerability means that low-income countries are relatively less able to purchase and maintain resources and technology to protect and promote population health. Increases in information, education, transportation and social services can promote good health and reduce the potential health impacts of climate change. There is a strong positive relationship between absolute poverty and ill health (WHO, 1992). Deprived communities, which lack wealth, social institutions, environmental security and robust health, are likely to be at the greatest risk of adverse health from environmental change.
This constitutes a powerful argument for policies to reduce poverty. Inequalities in income both within and between countries may be an important cause of vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change. Within countries, this can only be achieved by income redistribution, full employment, better housing and improved public health infrastructure. In a world that is currently dominated by market-driven economics, and by associated evidence of a widening gap between rich and poor, this presents a major challenge to national governments and international agencies. Macroeconomic policies have major influences on population health in all countries, yet are usually established with little or no consideration of health impacts (WHO, 1992). For example, income tax reductions measures taken under regimes of structural adjustment policies in some countries have led to cutbacks in health services and increased the disease burden. Improvement in population health requires increased consideration of equity, and how risks are distributed among populations. Both existing and future-potential environmental health problems share many of the same underlying causes related to poverty, inequality, excessive consumption in affluent groups and population growth.
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