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Climate Change is Affecting People’s Health – Here’s How the Private Sector in Pakistan Can Help

Climate change poses a significant threat to public health globally, and Pakistan is no exception. The complex, interconnected impacts of climate change in Pakistan are driven by systemic factors across infrastructure, agriculture, livelihoods, and healthcare. The health impacts of climate change threaten not only individuals but also businesses and workforces, underscoring the need for the private sector to leverage its resources and expertise in mitigation efforts. The private sector must collaborate with public and non-profit sectors to develop, apply, and encourage the adoption of new technologies to address this growing crisis.

Pakistan has made several commitments to international climate change treaties, including both historical and recent commitments to safeguard its interests:

Pakistan's Climate Change Commitments

This list reflects Pakistan's ongoing and historical commitments to international treaties aimed at addressing climate change, promoting environmental sustainability, and enhancing resilience to climate impacts.

Pakistan's Climate Change Commitments' Timeline

In Pakistan, the manifestations of climate change are already visible and alarming. The country has experienced a surge in extreme weather events, including unprecedented heatwaves, floods, and droughts, affecting millions of people. According to the Global Climate Risk Index of the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranks among the top ten countries most affected by climate change. Extreme weather events in Pakistan have displaced communities, destroyed infrastructure, and led to significant economic losses, impacting around 20 million people annually.

Air quality in Pakistan has deteriorated drastically, with major urban centers like Lahore and Karachi frequently ranking among the most polluted cities globally. Air pollution in Pakistan is responsible for approximately 128,000 premature deaths annually, with indoor air pollution from the use of solid fuels in homes being a major contributor. This disproportionately affects urban populations and exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially among vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

The Top 12 Worst Air Quality Cities in the World, Source: Air Quality Index 2024

Food and water security are also critical issues. Pakistan's agricultural sector, which employs a 70%+ population, is highly vulnerable to climate change. Changes in precipitation patterns, increasing temperatures, and water scarcity have reduced crop yields, contributing to food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme, around 60% of Pakistan’s population faces food insecurity, and 44% of children under five suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. Additionally, water scarcity is a growing concern, with around 22 million people lacking access to clean drinking water, further compounding health issues related to waterborne diseases.

Infectious diseases are another area of concern, as climate change alters the distribution and spread of pathogens. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns create conducive environments for diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera. Pakistan has seen a resurgence of dengue fever in recent years, with outbreaks affecting thousands of people annually.

The table below looks into the possible infectious diseases that can potentially impact Pakistan's population due to climate change:

Infectious Diseases that can Impact Pakistan's Population due to Climate Change

These diseases are influenced by climate change through various mechanisms such as altered vector ecology, changes in rainfall patterns, and increased temperatures, which affect the distribution, incidence, and severity of these diseases. The impacts are felt across different age groups and geographic regions in Pakistan.

To address these multifaceted challenges, it is crucial to identify how different manifestations of climate change directly and indirectly impact health. The Climate and Health initiative at the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with L.E.K. Consulting, has produced an insight report titled "Health Impacts of Climate Change: Evidence Landscape and Role of Private Sector." The report assesses the biggest health impacts of climate change and highlights critical interventions required to address the most urgent areas.

The report identifies ten areas of health most severely affected by climate change, emphasizing that infants, children, the elderly, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. Weakened physiological functions in these groups hinder their ability to adapt to environmental changes and combat infections. Socially disadvantaged populations, including lower-income individuals and racial minorities, face interconnected challenges such as higher rates of pre-existing medical conditions, substandard living conditions, and limited access to healthcare services. In Pakistan, rural populations are particularly vulnerable due to limited access to healthcare services and information.

Moreover, extreme weather occurrences can exacerbate these risks, leading to sudden spikes in specific vector-borne diseases. For example, severe flooding in Pakistan in 2022 resulted in a five-fold increase in malaria cases within the country.

Addressing the complex and interconnected ways climate change affects health requires tackling systemic drivers, including infrastructural damage, agricultural disruption, livelihood loss, and healthcare access challenges. The report pinpoints twelve drivers categorized as primary contributors (direct effects of climate change), secondary contributors (drivers arising from primary contributors), and amplifiers (pre-existing conditions exacerbating the health effects).

The public sector plays a pivotal role in addressing the health impacts of climate change, but the private sector's involvement is equally critical. Private climate finance has been increasing at half the rate of public finance, with most progress made in funding renewable energy. However, there is a notable shortfall in adaptation and resilience finance. Private companies in various industries have a vested interest in enhancing climate resilience and can contribute valuable resources, expertise, and innovative solutions. For instance, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan are exploring digital tools to expand healthcare access, while agritech companies are developing innovative solutions to address climate challenges faced by farmers. The energy, construction, and transportation industries are deploying technologies to address issues like wastewater management and expanding electricity and connectivity for health facilities.

There is significant potential for public-private-philanthropic partnerships to support localized training of healthcare workers in addressing diseases exacerbated by climate change. Targeted areas for skill development and capacity building among healthcare professionals could include cardiovascular and maternal health risks exacerbated by extreme heat. This approach is particularly promising in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where the private healthcare sector plays a significant role.

For instance, in Pakistan, engaging with private providers has proven successful in expanding access to services in remote areas and enhancing the functioning of public sector facilities. This model could be replicated and scaled to strengthen healthcare infrastructure and response capabilities in the face of climate-related health challenges.

The involvement of the private sector in addressing the climate-health nexus is not only beneficial but necessary. While the public sector shoulders significant responsibility in responding to climate change emergencies, private sector involvement is vital for accelerating and enhancing these efforts.

According to the 2022 Global Landscape of Climate Finance, private climate finance has been increasing, though at half the rate of public finance. Private organizations possess specialized knowledge and expertise across various industries, which can be leveraged to bolster the public sector’s response capabilities. Collaborative efforts can adopt a more comprehensive and coordinated approach by tapping into industry-specific insights and resources. Private sector innovation drives the development of cutting-edge technologies and solutions to address climate and health challenges, leading to improved resilience and health outcomes.

Private organizations bring expertise, experience, and specialized skills across diverse industries to climate and health interventions, offering valuable insights and tailored approaches. Additionally, private sector partnerships can mobilize significant financial resources for research, development, and implementation of interventions, unlocking new funding sources and investment opportunities. Businesses often have agile and adaptable operational capabilities, enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of interventions for widespread impact. With appropriate accountability mechanisms, greater private sector involvement can ensure adherence to rigorous standards, regulations, and best practices, ensuring the integrity and effectiveness of interventions. 

To unlock the full potential of the private sector, industries must collaborate, leveraging their complementary skills and expertise to develop, apply, and adopt new technologies. Collaboration between the public sector, private companies, and non-profit organizations can bridge gaps in capabilities and knowledge, promoting inclusivity and maximizing the impact of climate resilience initiatives targeting public health. The combined strength of these diverse stakeholders can enhance Pakistan's resilience to climate change while improving the health of the country’s vulnerable populations.

Amir Jahangir, a global competitiveness, risk, and development expert, leads Mishal Pakistan, the country partner institute of the New Economy and Societies Platform at the World Economic Forum.


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