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impacts of climate change

A series of articles by Bund/Friends of the Earth Germany - 1st published in Frankfurter Rundschau

Impacts of Climate Change - Part 2

BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany

Malaria – the big winner

The dangers of malaria are well known from ancient times. When the Romans conquered northern Africa, they easily defeated the indigenous tribes, but had to flee to the cool of the mountains when the disease blighted them in summer.


Today malaria is the world's 2nd biggest killer . Every year, 500 million people are infected and approximately 2.7 million die as a result, the majority of these in Africa. More than 90% of the victims are under five.

Climate change will worsen the situation. During the 20th century the average temperature in Africa rose by around 0.7 °C while annual rainfall declined in some regions. So far the experts agree, but, it is hard to make predictions about future climate change, not least because the network of research centres in Africa is underdeveloped.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the highest international authority for climate researchers, is expecting temperatures in Africa to rise by around 2-5 °C during the course of the 21st century. There will be extensive regional differences – whilst the Sahel region will probably become even hotter, there may be higher rainfall Central Africa. However, several researchers are predicting that the climate will also become very disordered in Africa.

For the anopheles mosquito , the transmitter of malaria, the conditions could not be better. Even just slightly higher temperatures and appropriate larvae hatcheries can result in explosive reproduction rates. What this can entail was shown in Rwanda and Mozambique, where a hot summer in 1987 and a few heavy showers caused a 300% increase in malaria cases in just one year.


This was also the first time that the mosquito was able to reach higher climes. Generally it can only survive in lower regions where the climate is tropical. Yet now the disease also occurs in mountainous areas , which were previously considered as malaria-free.


The situation has been particularly well researched in South Africa. Scientists estimate that climate change bolsters the spread of malaria so much, that at the Cape of Good Hope alone the mosquito's habitat will double. The number of potential human victims would thereby rise from 2- 7 million.


Effective drugs against malaria have long been available, and in many parts of the world the disease has been beaten. However, particularly in rural African regions, medical provision is poor. Malaria claims so many victims here that it destroys social structures of entire villages. Families lose their providers, children become orphans, and villages lack teachers, workers, and even tribal leaders.


The UN is acting on the assumption that the consequences of malaria will reduce economic growth in Africa by 1.3 % every year. And most African countries are ill-prepared to face up to these realities . In order to combat malaria large amounts of money would be needed for drugs, hospitals and to destroy mosquito hatcheries. Unfortunately, financial means for this are rarelly available.


Author: Markus Steigenberger

Translation: Hilary Myska

First published in Frankfurter Rundschau/ Germany


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