Owing to their geography and location, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are some of the most vulnerable countries which endure, year-after-year, natural weather events like hurricanes and seasonal periods of high rainfall. In the future, climate change is not only expected to raise the frequency and intensity of these pre-existing events, but also stands to increase many health risks associated with water quantity and quality.

As local climates begin to experience higher levels of precipitation and temperature, islands in tropical and temperate regions will present more favourable conditions for vector-borne diseases (VBD). In the past few years alone, islands around the world have already begun to show higher numbers of VBD cases and disease introduction where previously few or no cases existed before, as happened with the 2013-2014 chikungunya outbreaks in the Caribbean and Pacific

According to data presented by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization, a five-fold increase in the number of dengue cases in the Americas between 2003-2013 also indicated a rising trend in VBDs, with poor community development and climate change cited as some of the leading contributors. While it may be argued that the introduction or spread of these diseases is to be attributed to the human carriers themselves, how they interact with a mosquito vector (such as Aedes aegypti) is especially important in understanding this connection between climate change and island health.

As urban populations on islands continue to grow, denser living conditions are expected to increase the number of people at risk of contracting these diseases. Secondary climate effects, such as flooding and excessive rainfall, will not only impact areas with poor water management and sewage disposal, but will further serve to facilitate the breeding of mosquitoes. For some of the world's smallest islands facing limited financial and medical resources, it’s a vicious cycle that impacts both their economic growth and development.

THE WAY FORWARD

With the start of the annual climate change conference this week, its timing with the United Nations (UN) Summit on sustainable development could mark the turning point on how climate change is approached. Together with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) this past September, many of the development targets set by SDG’s predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, are expected to build on some of those previous areas. Now, as an expanded set of 17 goals, the SDGs present a more hybrid approach to sustainable growth through their additional emphasis of environmental-related issues like curbing climate change (SDG-13), providing clean water and sanitation (SDG-6), and creating resilient cities of the future (SDG-11).

Addressing the connection between development issues like public health and climate change, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said:

Let us always remember that climate change and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin. The two agendas are mutually reinforcing: progress on one benefits the other, from food security to health, from energy security to water and the full scope of human need and endeavour. Development cannot be sustainable if it does not address the challenge of climate change.

This year, as countries finalize their new commitments to climate, it is strongly hoped that promises in this direction will continue to be made with those most susceptible to climate change in mind.

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This article was written by a contributor, Dominique Maingot. Dominique is qualified as a lawyer in Australia and holds a Juris Doctor degree in law from The University of Sydney. If you would like to write for SDSN Youth, fill out this form and you could be featured on our blog! All opinions expressed on the blog are that of the author and not of SDSN Youth