How climate crisis is affecting pregnant women and newborns in Asal regions
Climate change effects may pose an increased health danger to mothers and children in Kenya’s Arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) unless urgent measures are put in place to address them. Besides causing direct air pollution, global warming pollutants like carbon and industrial and agricultural waste emissions lead to rising temperatures and overheating in the atmosphere. It is this overheating that Dr Yaron Wolman, chief of health at the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), says is creating air pollution and heat stress due to extreme weather conditions, leading to immediate and long-term health potential risks to pregnant women and newborns. “Studies show a link between heat exposure and preterm birth risk, premature rupture of membranes, low birth weight and stillbirth. Extreme heat is known to lead to dehydration in pregnant women, which can trigger the onset of early labour and prolong its duration. The heat may cause blood pressure and other pregnancy complications,” explains Dr Wolman. Air pollution, another environmental risk associated with climate change, is found to increase the risk of low birth weight in infants and preterm birth. Further, heavy rainfall leading to floods is known to result in infrastructure damage, affecting critical services such as transport. This disrupts mother and child access to health services. Flooding also causes displacements and lead to waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery as well as mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and malaria . On the other hand, drought results in massive crop failure and livestock deaths, leading to malnutrition-related illnesses and household poverty. Dr Anderson Kehbila, programme leader for Natural Resources and Ecosystems at Stockholm Environment Institute Africa Centre, warns that Kenya and Africa could experience increased cases of internal displacement patterns due to climate change and climate-related disasters. Competition over depleted natural resources is known to spark conflicts between communities. Other climate change consequences are psychological health issues such as anxiety and depression and mental disorders, which are affiliated to heat stress. Dr Kehbila says the risk can be minimised with the use of energy efficiency technologies in renewable energy, carbon capture and storage to Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCP) such as greenhouse gases and air pollutants, which consequently will reduce global warming, improve air quality, protect lives, environment and save finances. But Dr Kehbila says since the National Action Plan was launched to reduce SLCP, gaps still exist in knowledge and technical skills to integrate research into policy, exacerbated by limited public funding, weak governance, institutions and community organisations. Last year, the government, Unicef, USAID and other partners launched a three-year programme whose first year budget is $5.2 million, meant to accelerate universal health coverage, establish primary care networks and enhance community health promotion to reduce climate-related health risks, including hazards, exposures and vulnerabilities. It will focus on reproductive, maternal, newborn, adolescent health and nutrition equity programme in the four counties of Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Isiolo; targeting to reach 28,667 newborns, 92,011 infants, 286, 846 children under five years, and 684,604 women and girls between 15 and 49 years. Mandera Governor Mohamed Khalif says the four counties face weather challenge variations. During the hot season, drought results in famine and deaths of livestock; the staple economic hold of the communities, affecting their economy, access to food and health services. Prolonged rainy season results in floods, destruction of houses and disruption of transport system, leading to immobility including of health systems and essential commodities such as food and drugs in hospitals and health facilities at the grassroots.