Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Climate Change: Driving the Spread of Ebola

By Kavin LamPublished October 21, 2014

As Ebola threatens American soil and the lives of medical professionals, was this our fault? Did Americans force the disease to spread? Global climate change has already increased the frequency of infectious diseases, posing especially dire threats to underdeveloped countries.
By Kavin Lam, 10/21/14

Natural disasters most are especially detrimental to impoverished communities around the world because they easily destroy cheaply-built homes and undeveloped infrastructure. These communities have a difficult time responding to catastrophes and rebuilding, particularly due to weak governance. Due to the effects of global warming, poor areas will be devastated by even more disasters in the future.

Many natural disasters have been linked to global weather shifts due caused by global warming. According to the New England Journal of Medicine,  there have been three times as many climate- related natural disasters from 2000-2009 than from 1980-1989. These phenomena in 2013 alone include the amplification of Winter Storm Atlas in South Dakota that dumped 55 inches of snow,  massive mid-September rains that flooded more than a dozen cities in Colorado,  California's persistent drought conditions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the poorest countries will experience the most devastating effects of global warming.  In East Africa, drought- prone areas will become even drier while Southeast Asia will experience even more extreme monsoons. Average temperatures are expected to increase by 4°C by 2100,  which would devastate crops. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka notes, "The IPCC makes the case that climate change is real and happening much more strongly than before. We are already seeing the effects of climate change in Bangladesh and across south Asia. It's not news to us. Most developing countries are facing climate change now. They do not need the IPCC to tell them that the weather is changing"

With more extreme weather, farming is also becoming tougher. Droughts and floods are wiping out crops and pushing people deeper into poverty. This will drive poor West African populations to rely on cheaper bush meat for food, which has often contained the Ebola virus. Ebola is especially potent because animals, namely bats and monkeys, can incubate it for several years and then transmit it to humans. Impoverished community hospitals that are poorly constructed and over-crowded provide perfect breeding grounds for Ebola to rapidly spread.
Global warming has a direct impact impact on the spread of diseases. As sustenance farming becomes more challenging, people are moving into large cities, which are dangerous zones for vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and water- borne diseases such as cholera. Diseases like Ebola are especially dangerous because they are very infectious. Poor sanitation and high population concentrations densities make these cities easy prime areas for disease transmission. These factors will only be exacerbated by global warming and more natural disasters, which haves been associated with increases in infectious diseases such as malaria, Dengue fever, Lyme disease, and cholera. The effects of these diseases are exacerbated because of global warming's negative impact on air quality, while increases in ground level ozone is responsible for lung disease.

Even though we do not know the full extent of global warming's disproportionate effects on impoverished communities, it definitely risks the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola that must be eradicated.