Report: Developing Nations Suffer Health Problems

People in developing countries are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to their health. A new United Nations report details how those in poorer nations are more likely to suffer health problems caused by climate change than people in developed countries.


Add to the growing body of information on climate change, new findings that people in developing countries are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to their health. A United Nations report is released today, detailing how those in poor nations are more likely to suffer health problems caused by climate change than people in developed countries.

NPR's Joanne Silberner has more.

JOANNE SILBERNER: There've already been major international reports on the nature of climate change and on the economic impact. Kevin Watkins is with the U.N. Development Program and the lead author of the new report. He wants to see the climate-change discussion shift to near term threats to poor countries that don't have billions to spend on projects like flood abatement or drought recovery.

Dr. KEVIN WATKINS (Lead Author; Director, Human Development Report Office, U.N. Development Program): If you go, alighted recently, to northern Ethiopia and you talk to people who are living in the drought zone, when the rains fail or if a drought happens, they really have no protection at all.

SILBERNER: The UNDP report details a study of Ethiopian children; some born in an area undergoing a drought; others born in an unaffected area.

Dr. WATKINS: Five years after the drought, the children who were born in a drought district were 36 percent more likely to be malnourished than their co-citizens who weren't born in the drought district.

SILBERNER: Extrapolating that out, that single drought led to long-term malnourishment in 2 million children across Ethiopia. Parents had to sell their plows and oxen to buy food, leaving them no way to recover when the rains returned.

Dr. WATKINS: What we're seeing across the world is what Desmond Tutu, in our report, refers to as adaptation apartheid. It's that the rich countries - let's face it, are largely responsible for the problem - are able to use their financial resources to protect their citizens, while the world's poorest people, are in a very literal sense, being left to sink or swim with their own resources.

SILBERNER: Watkins says poor people's greater vulnerability means that developed countries need to change the way they give aid.

Dr. WATKINS: Most major donors have about one-third of their aid portfolios tied up in projects or programs that could be immediately and adversely affected by climate change.

SILBERNER: So it doesn't make sense to just build a school in a community where kids can't go to school because they have to spend all day finding water. You also have to figure out a way to get water to the area. The report calls for $86 billion a year by 2015 beyond what's already being spent on development to go for flood control, for example, and early warning systems, and projects like one that's going on now in Ethiopia.

In that project, people in drought areas are getting 30 cents a day to carry them over until they can start producing food again, and if donor countries don't plan for the effects of climate change when trying to help countries with nutrition or transportation or education problems.

Tony McMichael is at Australian National University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Mr. TONY McMICHAEL (Member, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Australian National University): We've made some progress - some small progress in recent times, on these fronts, but this report points out that if we don't take climate change very seriously, very quickly, it threatens to undermine all that good work.

SILBERNER: Next week in Bali, there's an international meeting on climate change. Watkins and McMichael are hoping the new report will push poor people into the center of the discussion.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.