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Region grapples with surging cases of fatal diseases following year of record heat, floods, drought: 'This is probably only the beginning'

"Extreme events are becoming more frequent and the period of return is becoming shorter."

"Extreme events are becoming more frequent and the period of return is becoming shorter."

Photo Credit: iStock

Imagine facing a triple threat of soaring temperatures, raging floods, and crippling food shortages — all at the same time.

For millions across Latin America, this nightmare scenario became a devastating reality last year, according to the Guardian.

What's happening?

Sadly, hunger and disease are on the rise in Latin America after a year of record heat, floods, and drought.

A report from the World Meteorological Organization estimates that the region suffered tens of thousands of climate-related deaths in 2023, at least $21 billion in economic damage, and the greatest loss of calories of any region.

"Sadly, this is probably only the beginning," the report's lead author and director of the Brazil National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters told the Guardian. "Extreme events are becoming more frequent and the period of return is becoming shorter."

Why are climate deaths concerning?

As our planet overheats, diseases are spreading to new areas.

According to the WMO report, Latin America saw over three million dengue fever cases in the first seven months of 2023 alone, shattering the previous annual record. Uruguay had its first chikungunya cases, and Chile is on high alert for disease-spreading mosquitoes.

Heat waves are also directly threatening lives. There were nearly 37,000 heat-related excess deaths per year in Latin America from 2000 to 2020. Last year's toll was likely even higher, with record temperatures and heatwaves across the region.

Meanwhile, extreme weather is disrupting food production. Wheat harvests in Argentina and Brazil plummeted 30% below average. Some losses were offset by record maize crops elsewhere, but overall, Latin America suffered major calorie shortfalls.

In countries already facing hardship like Venezuela and Haiti, it's becoming a full-blown food crisis.

What's being done about climate deaths?

While the situation is dire, we can take heart that solutions exist.

At the individual level, supporting local food banks and aid organizations helps provide vital nutrition to those in need. Advocating for policies to rapidly phase out dirty gases can prevent even worse warming.

Most importantly, we must stay committed to building a world where everyone can thrive in the face of atmospheric pollution. That means strengthening healthcare systems, improving early warning for disasters, and investing in climate-resilient agriculture.

The path ahead won't be easy, but if we work together with compassion and resolve, a healthier future is still within reach — in Latin America and beyond.

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