INterdisciplinary CLimate INvestigation cEnter

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Health - vulnerability and adaptation in the environmental health context

Human activities have been altering environmental conditions significantly and, consequently, population health. Uncertainties and risks associated to climate change in terms of occurrence, intensity, and frequency of extreme events also aggravate the situation.

Improvement in environmental health and quality of life for dwellers of a certain location is connected to creating environmentally healthy spaces. Those must be foreseen in urban planning and be part of health promotion programs (KRINGS and ROSSIN, 2008).

Broadly, there are three main ways health impacts are caused by climate change: i) direct effects from extreme climate events: physical and psychological trauma resulting from climate events; ii) effects on the environment: quality of water and ecology of infectious agents; iii) effects on social processes: migration of population groups triggered by prolonged draughts or recurrent floods and landslides (IPCC, 2007).

Such effects are closely related to how spaces are socially constructed and the environment is taken hold of where populations become more and more vulnerable. Thus, the process of adapting to climate change relates social, cultural, economic, and environmental dimensions, in different scopes and scales. In this way, socio-environmental inequalities, the rapid and precarious population concentration in cities, illegal occupations, the emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases, development of new risks linked to modernity and other aspects involve uncertainties related to climate change effects over public health, particularly in developing countries (MCMICHAEL, 2003). In order to deal with such environmental and health inherent uncertainties, a precautious science is proposed and it is based in the expansion of the knowledge production process involving society and decision makers, able to embody different knowledge manners as well as to disseminate them properly. It is expected it to help out the interaction with unpredictable facts, possibly followed by broad and irreversible severe consequences (Ravetz, 2004).

So, in a brief approximation to the Brazilian public policies context, the process of implementing the National Policy on Climate Change (federal law 12.187 from Dec., 2009) is necessarily interfaced with federal laws, such as: Estatuto das Cidades (Statute of the Cities) (federal law 10.257 from Jul, 2001), Saneamento Básico (Basic Sanitation) (federal law 11.445 from Jan, 2007), Habitação Social (Government Housing Program) (federal law 11.888 from Dez, 2008), Promoção da Saúde (Health Promotion) (federal law 8.080 from Sep, 1990), Meio Ambiente (Environmental) (federal law 6.938 from Ago, 1981), Defesa Civil (Emergency Management Agency) (Decree 7.257 from Ago, 2010) and others.

In that sense, society’s participation emerges as a means of social insertion in formulating, implementing, monitoring, and assessing intersectoral public policies regarding climate change. At the same time, the project provides for other sectors to engage and for the democratic exercise of citizenship. Three are the main challenges for this project addressing climate change: 1) bringing the population into these debates, considering that social participation today still faces educational, cultural, social, economic, and political hurdles; 2) helping most vulnerable communities to empower themselves to the point of adapting to past and future climate change; 3) Academic contribution to decision making process through subsides and strategies oriented to precaution principles assumption in environmental and health related public policies.

Group presentation and scientific issues

Group research presented herein is grounded in the study of Environmental-Health interrelations at the Public Health School of the University of São Paulo, where knowledge generation is guided by interdisciplinarity, resulting from epistemological need and contemporary reality demands in face of complex challenges (PHILIPPI JR, 2010).

Thus, the scientific questions pointed out are:

  • Which set of environmental and health indicators is capable of characterizing human vulnerability to climate change?
  • In what ways are public policies related to facing climate change prepared, implemented, monitored, and assessed?
  • How can the general population be brought into the political arena of coping with climate change? How can autonomy in terms of adapting to climate change be constructed?
  • How building the interdisciplinary in applied research at governance area and environmental management, based - in diversity spheres of knowledge and the complex reality interpretation - the challenge of work set of investigators?