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Source: Small Island Developing States

5 July 2019: The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a technical guide explaining how undernutrition is influenced by climate and weather and may be exacerbated by climate change. It aims to bridge existing analyses of nutrition, food security and climate impacts, and argues that vulnerability and adaptation assessments provide a foundation for climate adaptation decision making.

The guide titled, ‘Adapting to Climate Sensitive Health Impacts: Undernutrition,’ is part of a WHO technical series, and is intended for use in conjunction with general WHO guidance on ‘Protecting Health from Climate Change: Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment.’

The publication provides guidance on conducting a vulnerability and adaptation assessment by: identifying populations and regions vulnerable to undernutrition and the reasons for their vulnerability; establishing relevant baselines that can be analyzed and monitored; conducting analyses to project the ways in which undernutrition may be impacted in the future as a result of climate change; and identifying appropriate responses to mitigate and monitor risks over time.

Although malnutrition ultimately affects individual health, the underlying causes result from conditions in other sectors, particularly agriculture and water.

According to the guide, although malnutrition ultimately affects individual health, the underlying causes result from conditions in other sectors, particularly agriculture and water, necessitating a multi-sectoral approach to assess, predict, monitor and protect nutrition. Thus, climate and nutrition assessments require input, data and experiences of stakeholders, decision makers and experts from various fields including: government nutrition programmes and nutrition working groups; local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies with national nutrition and food security data and experience; medical and health personnel; agriculture, livestock and fisheries experts; water and sanitation experts; climate and national meteorological experts; local universities and research institutes; and international experts with nutrition experience.

The guide explains that managing the health and nutritional risks of climate change requires an iterative management process, including:

  • assessing the current and likely future vulnerability of the target community or region;
  • estimating the extent of future undernutrition due to climate change;
  • designing and implementing policies and programmes to reduce food insecurity and undernutrition;
  • improving maternal care and childcare and feeding practices; and
  • monitoring and evaluating policies and programmes to identify and implement necessary modifications.

The guide explains that potential adverse consequences for food and nutrition security can be minimized and/or managed through new technologies research and development and stakeholder advocacy. Such work may include changes in agricultural practices (such as development of crops tolerant to different environmental stress), improvements in water management (such as recycling water and encouraging water conservation), and addressing underlying and basic determinants of malnutrition to improve food security. Nutrition security may also require: adequate health services; a sanitary environment; strengthening and increasing the climate resilience of health systems; improving access to health services; and stakeholder engagement to better understand and protect the nutrition of vulnerable populations.

The guide is intended to complement existing studies on climate change and agriculture and fill knowledge gaps regarding the human and social impacts of climate change. The technical series was created to help clarify and assess the relationships and casual links between climate change and health outcomes, and offer guidance and resources for designing adaptation options to protect health. Each guide follows the same structure of the vulnerability and adaptation assessment process, and provides resources and information on the theme of each guide. [Publication: WHO Technical Series on Adapting to Climate Sensitive Health Impacts: Undernutrition] [Publication Landing Page]

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