With everything from sea-level rise to record-breaking wildfire seasons, British Columbia is facing not only physical but also health-related challenges due to climate change. A new online resource has been launched to help address these mounting issues and prepare for the years ahead.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) announced on August 28 that UBC medicine researchers created the climate vulnerability index, an online map of how health in various areas of the Lower Mainland might be affected by climate change.
The map reveals how communities in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are susceptible to the health impacts of extreme heat events, wildfires and smoke, flooding, and ozone air pollution.
The initiative will assist collaborations between VCH, Fraser Health, First Nations, regional districts, municipalities, and organizations to build more resilient communities in the Lower Mainland.
VCH medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt explained in a news release that as climate change is one of the “biggest challenges” that local communities are facing, this new resource can help them respond to and plan for related issues.
“We can use the information from the index to work with municipalities to build up their capacity to respond,” he explained. “For example, we can see which communities may be affected more by heat, and work with municipalities to develop response plans in those communities, such as opening cooling stations for people during a heat wave.”
UBC population and public health professor and lead researcher Michael Brauer explained that this map will help to identify and allocate resources to the people in the areas who will be most affected.
“The maps highlight how climate hazards affect everyone, but disproportionately impact those affected by social determinants of health, like low income or racism,” Fraser Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Alex Choi added. “As we work together to respond, it will be vital to prioritize the populations who are more likely to experience climate-related health risks so that we don’t worsen inequities.”
VCH states that climate change is linked to increased risk of premature death, infectious disease, heart and lung disease, and cancer, all of which particularly affect children, seniors, and low-income populations. Other health issues potentially exacerbated by climate change include heightened allergies (prolonged or intensified by extended pollen seasons) and mental-health issues (including anxiety, stress, and trauma).
The researchers collected over 35 indicators, reviewed over 280 epidemiological papers to create the vulnerability maps, and used data from each community to calculate scores for exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to hazards, which contributed to a vulnerability score.
A colour-coded scale of very low to very high helps to reflect the scores. The maps will be continually updated to reflect community preparedness and demographic changes.
The climate vulnerability index is can be viewed here.