‘Health sector like others should reduce its climate footprint’

skyAs concerns about climate change are rising, Director of World Health Organisation (Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health) Dr Maria Neira has made a call that the health sector too should lower its climate footprint.

Hospitals, as they operate today, are energy-intensive enterprises that contribute substantially to climate change. To reduce their environmental impact, they can adopt basic measures such as reducing toxic waste, using safer chemicals and purchasing eco-friendly products, she says.

She cites the example of a hospital in Jaipur, a 350-bed health facility that cut its total energy bill by half between 2005 and 2008 through solar-powered water heaters and lightning. In Brazil, one efficiency project reduced the demand for electricity of a group of 101 hospitals by 1035 kilowatts at a cost savings of 25 per cent.

But for the Jaipur hospital, the situation in India is no different from rest of the world. Hospitals consume a lot of electricity. In addition, they waste a lot of energy by subjecting patients to unnecessary procedures, just to make money. There is no attempt to reduce waste though facilities have come up for disposal of biomedical waste.

WHO estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250000 deaths a year between 2030 and 2050— mostly from malaria, diarrhoea, heat exposure and under-nutrition. That is, if human beings do not take steps to reduce their carbon foot print, the living earth will. However, the irony will be that the victims will be the poorer sections of the society; not the people who pollute the most.

The United States is doing little to reduce its emissions, while India and other nations have offered to reduce emissions intensity significantly. A study by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, the per capita household consumption expenditure of US is double that of an EU-28 household, 24 times a Chinese one, 44 times an Indian’s, 64 times a household in Bangladesh and 173 times a Malawi household.

Energy system in the US would remain fossil fuel heavy with 76 per cent of total primary energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030. Renewables contribution would just be 15 per cent by 2030. While India goes ahead with his ambitious plan to reduce climate footprint, it should also press that the United Nations and others make an equal, if not better, contribution. Those who created the problems should also be pressed to foot the bill.

Medical emergency in Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala is facing a medical emergency in its capital. Cholera is spreading following failure the city corporation and the government on waste disposal.

The city collector has clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code against those who deposit waste at public places and water bodies and those who block movement of waste to waste disposal sites of City Corporation. This is against background of intense protests against waste disposal sites of the city which polluted the neighourhoods.

Now that the solid waste treatment plant of the City Corporation at Vilappilsala is closed following public protests, the waste collection and disposal system of the Corporation have come to a standstill for about a year now. People are forced to throw waste here and there and the results are showing. Cholera and diarrhea and other water borne diseases are spreading in the city and suburbs.  Rodent population in the city has multiplied, and Hantavirus that infects people from rats had been the cause of at least one death in the city.

medical emergency

Patients queuing up at a government hospital in Thiruvananthapuram (old photo)

The mosquito population is also increasing and the Incidence of dengue fever has hit a high. Kerala is now the second in the country, after West Bengal, regarding incidence of dengue fever. Dengue fever has been confirmed in about 2000 persons this year officially and the actual number could be two or three times this number as the count does not cover patients admitted to private hospitals.

The measures being taken by the collector such as the ban orders are unlikely to help much in containing the outbreak.  The collector’s order would only force people to keep waste in their premises and terraces.  It does not make a difference whether waste is rotting in the streets or at homes.  Many homes are on only a few cents of land and they have little means of disposing waste properly as the Corporation has stopped collecting them.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has miserably failed in keeping his promise that new waste treatment plants would be set up in six months in place of the closed plant at Vilappilsala. He also failed to carry out his promise that protect water supply would be extended to Vizhinjam and neighbourhoods in a year.  Apart from the health of its citizens, this trend is going to hit the tourism potential of Kerala.