Projected Delays in Reducing Waterborne and Water-Related Infectious Diseases in China Under Climate Change

by Allison Hu

In 2010, infectious disease due to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WSH) were estimated to be responsible for 337,000 deaths globally and the loss of over 21 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) (Hodges et al. 2014). These WSH-attributable diseases include soil-transmitted helminth infections, schistosomiasis, diarrhoeal diseases, and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Japanese encephalitis. In China, the WSH-attributable disease burden is concentrated in low-income areas and in young children. Cases not leading to morbidity and mortality, these diseases can causes malnutrition, stunting, impaired school performance, immunodeficiency, and impaired cognitive functioning which can hinder economic growth and development at a population level (Hodges et al.). Furthermore, there are studies associating certain diseases with key environmental variables that are responsive to changes in climate, such as temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity. Temperatures changes can influence the replication rate and survival of pathogens and vectors in the environment and impact transmission. Heavy precipitation can overwhelm existing water and sanitation systems, therefore mobilizing pathogens, while drought conditions can increase pathogen exposure by limiting the water available for hygiene and forcing populations to resort to the use of contaminated water supplies. Continue reading