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Deadly Diarrhea Will Increase on Hotter, Drier Planet

New study found that the second most common cause of death for children is bound to increase under global warming

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Newly constructed school toilets in Kenya (Photo: waterdotorg via Flickr)

It kills over 1.5 million children every year and is a topic completely shunned by media and politics alike.

Diarrhea is not only deadly but the scope of its devastation is only going to proliferate as global warming continues to cause widespread drought and drive worldwide temperatures higher and higher.

A new study published earlier this week in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health uncovered a "surprising" correlation between diarrheal disease and hot, dry seasonal temperatures.

Examining data collected from Botswana health facilities over 30 years, the authors of Climate Change is Likely to Worsen the Public Health Threat of Diarrheal Disease in Botswana (pdf) found during these "dry season peaks," a proliferation of fly activity and density.

"This is significant, as flies can be important in the transmission of diarrheal disease-causing micro-organisms," said report co-author Kathleen Alexander, associate professor of wildlife at Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment.

As global warming-induced drought continues to plague much of the world, the reality of a hotter, drier climate is undeniable.

The findings of the study are significant. The World Health Organization says that diarrhea is the second most common cause of death and the leading cause of malnutrition in children worldwide, primarily affecting children under two years old.

“Diarrheal disease is an important health challenge, accounting for the majority of childhood deaths globally and the second highest in Botswana,” Alexander said. “Our findings suggest that climate change will increase the occurrence of diarrhea and the burden of disease among vulnerable populations in Botswana and similarly affected regions.”

Though deadly, diarrhea is both a preventable and treatable disease. With increased understanding of "climate-health interactions," the authors emphasize the need for an "escalated public health focus," particularly on those populations most at-risk.

“Understanding the potential health impacts of climate change in low-income countries will be essential to developing mitigation and adaptive strategies designed to protect these vulnerable populations expected to be impacted the hardest but least able to adapt.”


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