Climate change means more droughts in some parts of the globe, and drought spells disaster for many food crops. Recent events in Kenya also remind us that drought can spark disease outbreaks, as people are forced to rely on contaminated water sources and have less water for hygiene. 

The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reports:

A cholera epidemic is sweeping across Kenya, with 4,700 cases reported in the past month and 119 deaths in what Kenyan officials are calling “one of the worst outbreaks in a decade.”

The most stricken areas are the arid swaths of northern Kenya, which were hit this year by a devastating drought. The scant rains have meant that many people are surviving off dirty, germ-infested water, which is how cholera spreads.

The drought has also left thousands of people malnourished and weak, making them vulnerable to infectious diseases. Because of the remoteness of many of the infected areas, aid workers say they believe that the officially reported numbers of cases and deaths may vastly understate the severity of the outbreak.

We don’t know precisely how global warming will affect the spread of diseases (for instance, it’s hard to predict exactly how changes in complex ecosystems will affect the spread of insect-borne diseases), but we do know that the communities with fewer resources will have a harder time withstanding droughts and other disasters.

When people here in the US complain about the cost of slowing climate change, we have to remember that we’re not the ones who will bear the worst of its impacts. It won’t be our malnourished children dying of cholera, at least not in the near future. Do we really think our lifestyle is worth the toll it’s taking on the rest of the world?