Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health released this Health Impact Assessment (HIA) addressing the projected impacts of climate change on public health across the state. In addition to providing an overview of climate change predictions for Alaska, this report is the state’s first attempt to describe a wide range of potential climate impacts to human health. Along with the assessment, the report provides monitoring recommendations for health and environmental indicators, and examples of adaptation strategies for communities to address potential health impacts. 

The potential effects of climate change indicators, such as rising air temperatures, melting sea ice, sea level rise, changes in precipitation, and permafrost melt are discussed within the context of separate health impact categories: mental health and well-being; hazard materials exposure; food, nutrition, and subsistence activity; infectious diseases and toxins; non-communicable and chronic diseases (e.g., asthma); water and sanitation; health services and infrastructure capacity; and accidents and injuries.

In Section 3, the report addresses populations that are the most vulnerable to climate change. Rural Alaska has some of the highest rates of poverty in the United States as well as some of the highest costs for food and fuel, making individuals who live in rural areas more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Alaska Native people were also identified to be at increased risk for adverse health impacts from climate change due to the climate-related stresses to traditional food and land use practices. Many depend upon subsistence harvests of fish and wildlife resources for food and to support their way of life.

Children and elderly populations are also found to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, due to mobility issues and inabilities to cope with extreme weather events.


The Department of Health and Social Services also discusses monitoring recommendations and adaptation strategies based on the examples of potential climate-related health impacts identified in the report. The HIA proposes health and environmental indicators for the state to track its progress on several health outcomes in each health impact category and monitor future changes. Monitoring indicators and resources are listed in tables at the end of the report to help decision makers develop surveillance strategies and identify agencies currently collecting relevant health and environmental data. The Department provides some health-related adaptation strategies to help communities develop their own public health climate adaptation plans. Some of these health-related adaptation strategies include:

- to reduce morbidity and mortality from climate-related causes

- make communities more proactively resilient to climate change

- develop local climate change advisory groups, assessments, and adaptation plans

- assure sufficient public health workers and resources for communities

- provide climate-related health information for communities

 

Publication Date: January 8, 2018

Related Organizations:

  • Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

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  • Assessment

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