MIAMI (July 11, 2016)—Communities from Palm Beach to Key West with the greatest risk for adverse health effects of sea-level rise have been reported in a study by the Florida Institute for Health Innovation (FIHI). Roderick K. King, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the UM Miller School of Medicine, is also the CEO of the Institute.
“One of our findings represents an unexpected public health concern,” said King. “We normally think of populations with the lowest socio-economic status as being the most vulnerable to public health threats. In the case of sea-level rise, however, the most vulnerable turn out to be the wealthier populations who can afford to live close to the ocean. They may also be older, with health issues that require regular treatment, and if they can’t access health care because the streets are flooded, it poses a significant problem.”
In conjunction with the South Florida Regional Planning Council and Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, FIHI mapped the zones most prone to environmental sea-level rise impacts, described associated public health risks, and identified the region’s socially, economically and medically vulnerable communities most susceptible to sea-level rise health effects. The study, which covered Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, was funded by the Kresge Foundation.
Using an innovative public health framework developed by FIHI, the research provides a foundation for health-related climate change studies. It informs adaptation, mitigation, and infrastructure planning and provides a new method for linking socio-economic vulnerability and health risks to climate change effects. It also includes a toolkit with recommendations for local decision makers and planners. This study is the beginning of better detection and monitoring of vector-borne illnesses such as Zika virus and chikungunya fever.
A result of two years of cross-sector research and outreach, the study, entitled Health and Sea-level Rise: Impacts on South Florida, serves as a guide for all coastal communities. Newly established vulnerability indicators include flooding risk; educational attainment, income and race; emergency department visits and hospitalizations due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and pneumonia, giardiasis; and health care access. Using these results, researchers mapped “hot-spots” in the region to be considered for Adaptation Action Areas, governmentally designated areas that experience sea-level rise impacts and coastal flooding.
“The human health impacts from climate change are a relatively under-researched area, especially as applied to South Florida,” said Colin Polsy, Ph.D., the Director of FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies. “This report reflects a significant positive step towards improving South Florida’s coastal resilience with applicability to other regions.”
Providing a next step for regional resiliency planning, the study directly addresses multiple recommendations outlined in the 2012 Regional Climate Action Plan led by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
“This is an important new study that will support ongoing regional and local resilience planning initiatives,” said Jim Murley, Chief Resilience Officer for Miami-Dade County. “It informs our efforts by stressing the link between climate change impacts and public health.”
— Special to UM News