I’m an agnostic on global warming: I figure climate change may or may not exist, but that the theory is being used to explain away things when the real problem is pollution and misuse of resources.

So we have a Health Secratary blaming recent typhoid, Dengue and malaria outbreaks on Global warming:

The increasing number of dengue, malaria, cholera and typhoid fever cases could be attributed to climate change or global warming, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday.

Duque said changes in cholera, typhoid fever and malaria have been predicted due to the changing pattern of rainy season.

Well, maybe. But paint me skeptical. Global warming makes a nice scapegoat.

Here in the Philippines, the deaths of poor people from mudslides can be blamed on global warming, not the politicians who took bribes to ignore illegal logging in their area that left the hillsides bare.  And the recent floods can be blamed on global warming causing too much rain and too many hurricanes, not the fact that the irrigation dams were either made poorly or not inspected and failed.

So what is this week’s “Global warming” problem in the Philippines? Malaria.

It seems that there is a malaria outbreak in northern Luzon, which in the past has had outbreaks. The health department there correctly blames the outbreak on “poor hygiene and sanitation”, and is doing the routine public health prevention: aggressive treatment of cases, encouraging people to inspect areas near their houses for standing water that can allow malaria mosquitoes to breed, the use of mosquito nets, screens, and insect repellent, and the spraying of ditches.

Ah, but is global warming to blame for the  the presence of Dengue fever, and even the recent cases of typhoid in a nearby city?

So I look around our town, and see: open dumping of garbage in vacant lots. (they burned the garbage there this morning because of the smell, the flies, and the rats).Mosquitoes, which spread Dengue in our area, often breed in trash: plastic dishes or old tires collect enough water for the larvae to develop. And then there is the sewage problem. No sewers in our area, merely an open drainage ditch which is often full of debris throw by passersby… (at least we have an open drainage ditch: down the street the water floods and runs off slowly until it reaches the ditches).

And this brings us to another health problem: Diarrhea.

Our town has a decent water system, although sometimes the pressure is low. However, we don’t use it: our house predates city water, so we drilled our own deep well.

But last week, the city water pipe down the street was leaking and flooded the street. They fixed it, but in doing so, I found out the pipe was simple PVC pipe.

This is why I doubt that the recent typhoid outbreak in another city near Manila was caused not by Global warming: the health department found a crack in the water pipes, that allowed contaminated ground water to enter into the pipe that carried clean water into homes.

Typhoid, like many diarrheal diseases, is spread via the “finger/feces/flies/food” route, and unlike our family home, many villagers don’t have septic tanks, merely old fashioned latrines or toilets that discharge waste into the nearest sewage system, which is often an open ditch. All you need is to get water from a shallow well, or buy food from a street vendor who may not have washed his hands, or get your water from a pipe that has a small crack that allows ground water to seep in, and voila: Typhoid outbreak…or salmonella, or cholera.

What has improved the quality of life and stopped disease epidemics is not million dollar research, fancy medicines or even doctors: it is modern sanitation. And modern sanitation systems depend on good governments, and have little or nothing to do with fad theories like climate change.

Let the sewers and water supply break down, as has happened recently in Zimbabwe, and you end up with thousands of sick people.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.  Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at HeyDoc Xanga Blog.

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