Category Archives: Health

The emergency department of a hospital in Kiribati. Photo: Rimon Rimon/OB

Diabetes rise linked to climate change

Global food inequality is driving type 2 diabetes in the large numbers of people who are malnourished on the one hand and obese on the other,  reports for The Guardian …

The link between diabetes and climate change is highlighted in a new report from the IDF and supported by Bupa, which aims to put non-communicable diseases (NCDs) high on the international agenda.

Climate change is expected to cause people to migrate, increase slum growth, and makes resources scarce.

Rapid migration and urban slums also lead to food shortages and malnutrition which increase the risk of diabetes. In a cruel irony, the world’s poorest one billion people account for just 3% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but experience the most devastating impacts of climate change. Small island states are at especially high risk and are disproportionately affected by diabetes, with rates of more than 20% in the adult populations of Pacific islands such as Kiribati, Samoa and Tuvalu.

It is a self-perpetuating problem. Where diabetes is caused by sedentary lifestyles, argues the report, there is a rise in GHG emissions from food production and car travel: “A population in which 40% of people are obese requires 19% more food energy than a population with a normal BMI distribution.”

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Fisherman clean their catch for the day in South Tarawa, Kiribati. Photo: Jolee Wakefield/KAPIII

Ciguatoxins ‘highest in the Pacific’

Kiribati has one of the highest rates of ciguatera poisoning in the Pacific (Lewis and Ruff 1993). The disease is contracted by consuming reef fish that have been contaminated by ciguatoxins.

A recent study found a statistically significant relation between sea surface temperatures and the reported incidence of ciguatera fish poisoning in Kiribati (Hales and others 1999). This relation was used to model the projected increases in ciguatera poisoning. The model shows that a rise in temperatures is expected to increase the incidence of ciguatera poisoning from 35–70 per thousand people in 1990 to about 160–430 per thousand by 2050.

These results should be interpreted cautiously, as the model is based on many uncertainties and limited data. The overall impact of climate change on ciguatera should perhaps be measured not in terms of incidence rates but in terms of how people respond to the increased risk (Ruff and Lewis 1997). This may include changes in diets, decreased protein intake, increased household expenditures to obtain substitute proteins, and loss of revenue from reef fisheries. In addition, reef disturbance has been linked to ciguatera outbreaks (Ruff, 1989; Lewis 1992), suggesting that improved management of coastal areas would be an important adaptation strategy.

Read more about the potential health effects of climate change

A former fresh water lagoon that is now inundated with sea water. Photo: Justin McManus, The Age

Risk of Dengue Fever to increase

Climate change exacerbates public health problems in Tarawa. The incidence of ciguatera poisoning, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and vectorborne diseases, such as dengue fever, rise as a result of increased temperatures and changes in rainfall.

There have been several known outbreaks of Dengue Fever in Kiribati since the 1970s. South Tarawa is at a relatively high risk of dengue fever epidemics due to a combination of crowded urban areas, ideal climate conditions for the vector (average temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius and rainfall of 500 millimetres a month), the presence of an international airport, and the proliferation of discarded empty bottles and used tires.

A simple model suggests that the risk of dengue fever will increase in the future as a result of climate change, with the epidemic potential – an index measuring the efficiency of disease transmission – expected to increase 22─33 percent by 2050. Most of South Tarawa’s population would be exposed in the event of an epidemic. However, while future epidemics could expand faster, the number of cases would probably not increase from current levels. The increased prevalence of all dengue virus serotypes worldwide could also lead to a higher incidence of severe forms of dengue fever – in particular dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, which can be fatal.

Read more about the potential health effects of climate change


The I-Kiribati people live with the sea regularly threatening their homes, particularly during king tides and storms both occuring with increased frequency.  Photo: Finn Frandsen, Politiken

A call to the world

The tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati will be among those first affected by the twin effects of climate change and sea level rise. It’s people have been described as “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”

Please watch this eloquent and powerful presentation of what this small nation is facing, as its culture, lifestyle, and very sovereignty is under threat.

It is an appeal to the World and COP 15 from those most affected – the Government & people of Kiribati.