Climate Change
Thought Leadership

A Silent Threat: Impact of Climate Change on Life Expectancy Rate in Nigeria

3 Mins read

‘The climate crisis is a health crisis, but for too long, health has been a footnote in climate discussions,” Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The recently concluded COP28 UN Climate Conference heralded a significant milestone with the inclusion of a Health Day, where health ministers in 123 countries signed the non-binding COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health. This historic event highlighted the growing recognition of the undeniable link between health and climate change, however it is important to note that the declaration is non-binding, but it does reflect a realisation that collective action is necessary to address the climate impact on health. The Health Day served as a platform for health to take centre stage in climate negotiations, highlighting the critical role of the health sector in driving climate-resilient policies and sustainable development initiatives globally.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

In Nigeria, climate change is having an increasing influence, with far-reaching consequences for health and well-being. One of the most serious consequences, is the potential impact on life expectancy.

 Climate and health intersection

Recent studies have shed light on the intricate relationship between climate change and health, especially its link to life expectancy rate. According to a study, as little as a 1°C increase in annual average temperature could lead to a 0.44-year drop in life expectancy at birth, while a 0.10 increase in the composite climate change index (temperature and rainfall) could result in a 0.5-year decrease in life expectancy.

Nigeria has made significant progress in raising life expectancy, with both men and women’s rates showing a consistent upward increase over time. According to a recent Bureau of Statistics report, women’s life expectancies increased from 56 to 57 years between 2020 and 2022, while men’s went from 54 to 55.1 years. However, experts have warned that these gains could be reversed owing climate shocks like floods, droughts and heatwaves, as well as the role they play in exacerbating disease outbreaks.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Another way climate affects life expectancy is its impact on food production. Many agrarian communities continue to experience decreased rainfall which has led to crop failures and food shortages. This has resulted in malnutrition and food insecurity, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as people in low-income settings with a disproportionate impact on women, children, and senior citizens. Research conducted in Lagos revealed a significant impact of climate change on food crop production and yield between 1998 and 2018, resulting in a notable decline in overall production levels.

Increased temperature also creates a conducive environment for the proliferation of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, increasing the incidence of preventable vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. Similarly, changes in rainfall pattern which refers to the amount of rainfall and its frequency, and intensity, over the years can contribute to the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Communities with limited access to healthcare and sanitation bear the biggest brunt as it further widens health disparities.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

A call for urgent action.

According to the World Bank, climate change could result in a loss of between 6% to 30% in Nigeria’s GDP by 2050. This may severely impede human development, including the improvement of the life expectancy rate.

Nigeria, like many other countries, must prioritise the implementation of climate adaptation and mitigation to safeguard public health. Government actors and other stakeholders may also establish early detection systems for disease outbreaks caused by climate shocks by launching climate education and disease prevention initiatives aimed at local communities.

Enhancing access to primary healthcare services even during floods and prioritising investment in the healthcare workforce’s resilience can be a way to limit the climate’s impact on life expectancy. Strengthening health workers’ capacity is also essential to protect the population from the detrimental effects of climate shocks.

Addressing the impacts of climate change on health and life expectancy in Nigeria requires urgent and coordinated action at all levels. It is essential to implement policies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote sustainable development practices, and build resilience to climate-related events.

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