The connection between climate change and negative impacts to human health and the health system is strong, as evident during recent extreme heat, smoke, and flooding events. Climate change and health vulnerability assessments assess the degree to which individuals, communities, facilities, and the services delivered by the health system, are susceptible to, and prepared for, the effects of climate change. In the first of two phases of this HealthADAPT project, a vulnerability and capacity assessment was produced that assessed the degree to which population health, health care facilities, and certain health services are susceptible to, and prepared for, the effects of various hazards, including heat, air quality, storms and flooding, and changing ecosystems.
The vulnerability and capacity assessment used environmental scans, literature review, primary data collection, internal and external engagement, and input from many advisors to assess current vulnerabilities and capacities. Engagement with communities in both the VCH and FH health regions was essential to creating community vulnerability maps, which were shared with local and regional governments in VCH and FH jurisdictions. These maps put local and regional governments in a better position for developing adaptation actions as it provided current climate data that helped refine understandings of community vulnerability. These findings, including the maps, provided the foundational knowledge required to create a coordinated, integrated, and multi-agency Climate Change and Health Adaptation Framework for VCH and FH.
Here are the key findings of the assessment:
- Extreme heat events, like the one that occurred in June 2021, will become much more common as the global climate warms, intensifying impacts to population health and the health system.
- Wildfire risk is expected to increase in BC as the climate changes.
- In addition to direct impacts from fire, the smoke from wildfire events contributes to poor air quality, in addition to other climate related air quality impacts of increased ground-level ozone, and longer pollen seasons.
- Flooding from extreme precipitation and coastal storm surge will intensify as climate change alters hydrological regimes and sea levels rise.
- Changes to the climate will contribute to conditions favourable to the spread of infectious disease, including water- and food-borne diseases (e.g., Vibrio), Legionellosis from contaminated water, Lyme Disease, and other less prevalent diseases including those acquired outside of Canada. Not enough is known about the changing epidemiology and ecology of many of these diseases and precautions should be taken to avoid minimizing the risks.