All need to play part in climate change

60cab3a7aaf1.jpgExtreme weather conditions such as heat and storms can have devastating effects on families and individuals, affecting their livelihood and general health. Researchers say although weather phenomena such as heat waves are normally predictable and people can be warned beforehand, any intervention to minimise the health impacts boils down to an individual.

‘€œAny mitigation on health impacts goes down to the personal level, particularly if we’€™re talking about temperature. It is how you would respond to the heat and how best you can adapt. It is a personal decision such as deciding not to go for a jog at mid noon. In the end, it will be your decision on how you respond to the heat. The information about when to respond to heat will come from government or weather service. You have to be aware of the symptoms of heat stress, such as when you start to get thirsty or dehydrated because you can mitigate. You’€™d have to stop what you are doing until you cool down again. But if you continue, it can go quickly into something more serious’€, says Rebecca Garland, of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Air pollution caused by burning oil and coal are also among the contributing factors to climate change. But Garland says these differ from population to population. As a result, different populations need to be addressed separately.

‘€œSome people are exposed to indoor pollution more than others by being exposed to the cooking inside, etc. In terms of temperature, how somebody in a suburb, township or rural setting would react is different. That is why we can’€™t really say what people should do. It definitely depends on your situation. And that is where we need to do more research to know what the best advice to give to people is. Because we can predict when a heat wave is coming, do we need to give different advice to people living in different situations?’€ says Garland.

Dr Jane Olwoch from the University of Pretoria says there are many ways to respond to climate change. She agrees with Garland that individuals play an even greater role to play.

‘€œSouth Africa has already put so many plans to reduce green house gases. Industries like Eskom have also put in place ways such as using less coal and using efficient technology. On an individual level we all have a responsibility to be very careful with the things we use. We have to make our environment strong enough to withstand the impacts of climate change.

This would be in the early warning systems… information awareness, in the provision of climate information to people in agriculture, so they can plan in time, targeting the climatic events’€.  

Dr Olwoch says developing countries like South Africa could be worst affected by climate change because they are not fully equipped nor do they have sufficient resources to prepare for its effects.

‘€œTo adapt effectively to climate change, nations should have economic resources available for providing information on awareness or early warning systems or even health facilities. But because many developing countries are poor, we do not have enough resources to pool into this’€, says Dr Olwoch.

Meanwhile, the City of Jo’€™burg has embarked on an initiative to encourage communities to find other ways to lessen the impacts of climate change, such as saving water. Instead of using tap water to water the gardens residents are urged to use rain water. The municipality is also encouraging city dwellers to plant trees for more shade and cooling.

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