Climate change and human health: an ecological study on climate variability and malnutrition in Fiji
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Health Sciences
Climate change has a significant effect on human health manifested by the increasing number of cases of climate-sensitive diseases. Europe and North America have experienced increasing number of deaths from heat waves, while in the Pacific there have been frequent outbreaks of dengue, leptospirosis, diarrhoea and typhoid. Climate change manifestation through extreme weather events have caused substantial loss of infrastructure and also the agricultural sector in Fiji which has increased the risk of malnutrition in the country.
This study aims to examine the relationship between climate variability and the prevalence of malnutrition in Fiji between January 2006 and December 2016. The study also examines the specific aspects of climate variability and malnutrition during the same period. The ecological study design was used as aggregated data on climate change were used in the study. The study conducted complementary quantitative and qualitative analyses. The quantitative part of the study was based on time series analysis, the additive model and smoothed using the moving aver- age to determine the trend of climate, malnutrition and crop production. The qualitative aspect examined works of existing works of literature on the other factors associated with malnutrition to explain the malnutrition trend where there is no influence of climate variables.
The study found evidence of seasonality in the climate variables, but there was no statistically significant fluctuations in the trends of minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity. However, there were fluctuations shown in average total rainfall. High rainfall periods in 2012 coincided with an active La Nina and episodes of floods. The general trend of total rainfall shows that Fiji is getting drier.
There was seasonality found in child malnutrition where there was an increase in cases during the wet and hot summer season (November-April) and decrease in cases in the cold, dry winter season (May-September). The trend showed the prevalence of the indicators of malnutrition (underweight, growth faltering, severe malnutrition and anaemia) decreased in the first half of 2011 increased from the middle of 2011 to its highest peak in the first quarter of 2012 and decreased from the third quarter of 2012 until 2013. The decrease in malnutrition trend in 2011 was possibly due to the active government policies introduced such as the food voucher program, provision of the employment centre, the introduction of regulating infant food and promotion of breastfeeding. On the other hand, when the government introduced other policies such as the increase in value-added tax, it increased basic food prices, and it was difficult for needy families to get decent healthy meals. The extreme weather events (episodes of flooding) caused by La Nina and a tropical disturbance in the first quarter of 2012 exacerbated the prevalence of malnutrition. There were shortages of crops, fruits and vegetables and food prices increased. The malnutrition trend improved in the third quarter of 2012 and going into 2013 due to the resilience of the Fijian government and people in adapting to climate change. The government work in partnership with all its relevant stakeholders to minimise further health effects, through food, medicine, water rations and the supply of seedling and land preparation to affected farmers. The increase in the budget for water, food voucher and the introduction of other social protection policies and health policies implemented in 2010 may have reduced malnutrition further.
The effects of climate change such as episodes of flooding exacerbate the prevalence of malnutrition in Fiji. Climate change, through the increase in the intensity and the frequency of extreme weather events will be more severe in the future, but effective government policies and programs contribute to adaptation and resilience in minimising the effect. The findings of this study suggest that proactive policies from the Government may contribute towards building resilience against adverse effects of climate change in Fiji.