Every country experiences its own seasonal weather patterns, but one thing almost every country has in common is that winter is the most dangerous time of the year for its poorer and more vulnerable population. Every nation will experience what’s known as excess winter mortality, which is the increase in deaths in winter due to disease, infection, and the effects of the cold.
In wealthy countries in the west and Europe, excess winter mortality can be mitigated through preventative measures. Still, developing nations are more at risk due to a range of socio-economic factors. This means the excess winter mortality rate in the developing countries in which we work is higher than in the UK because the threats of winter are heightened, but what exactly are those dangers?
Extreme Weather Conditions
Poorer countries are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Whilst every country is seeing and experiencing changes due to a warmer climate, developing countries will face the brunt of it. This is largely because developing nations are located in areas that are already prone to natural disasters. It is also because widespread poverty means they don’t have the means to take effective action to mitigate the effects of global warming.
So, while individual countries are taking their own actions to implement measures to help stop global warming, more immediate action must be taken to bring the gift of warmth in the form of warm clothes for winter to the local communities who are struggling to survive and succumbing to the consequences of plummeting winter temperatures, such as the growing winter flu death rate.
Pakistan, for example, is ranked as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. It’s a large country where climate conditions vary. The majority of the middle and south experience an arid, desert-like climate. As the planet warms up, it will continue to get hotter, making it almost impossible for people to grow crops and sustain their families. Temperatures will rise, making it unbearable and extremely dangerous for people trying to survive – particularly for those who work outside. On the other hand, the northern region is dominated by the Himalayas. As climate change takes hold, glaciers in the region will continue to melt, compromising essential rivers and causing extreme flooding and landslides.
It’s not just Pakistan that is at threat from climate change. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa and is increasingly suffering from dust storms, droughts, and floods, resulting in widespread displacement.
At all times of the year, weather conditions are problematic, but more so in winter. As people in developing nations are displaced due to extreme weather patterns, many end up homeless or in refugee camps - neither of which are ideal in cold temperatures. Many developing nations sit around the equator meaning most people think the weather is always warm, but the lack of cloud cover in the area means that night-time lows are far lower than elsewhere. As climate change continues to take hold, more people are finding themselves without adequate protection when winter comes, and those that do have shelter are at risk of losing it due to more intense storms and devastation. This leaves them exposed to the elements in winter, which is incredibly dangerous due to the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite.
Increased Spread of Disease and Infection
Winter around the world is known as the time of year when most people fall ill. In developed nations like the UK, we have a range of vaccines available to mitigate the spread and reduce the risk of fatality from winter health hazards like influenza and COVID-19. Unfortunately, healthcare systems in developing nations are often fragile and overwhelmed, meaning the option to take preventative measures to prevent the spread of infection isn’t there.
As a result, chest infections, colds, and other respiratory conditions spread rapidly, especially amongst those living in overcrowded refugee camps or in under-developed communities that live close to each other and share facilities. This means countless people fall severely ill from winter disease outbreaks that can’t be controlled or contained, and winter flu death rates soar way beyond what could and should be preventable.
Limited Access to Healthcare
In line with healthcare being limited in developing nations, it’s not accessible to everyone. Those living in rural areas or extreme poverty can’t access even the most basic services, such as getting a flu jab. When illness strikes, treatment is scarce, resulting in immense suffering and little in the way of reprieve. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable in winter, especially where health issues in winter are concerned. Sadly, many people in these age groups don’t make it to see spring.
Those living in developing countries often have flimsy houses that don’t have adequate heat sources, private sanitation facilities, or hot water. When the bitter chill of winter comes, a tin roof and tarpaulin wall aren’t going to be able to protect those inside, heightening the risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
What’s more, food can be scarce, so the option to eat a warm and nourishing meal to fend off the cold isn’t there either.
How You Can Help
There are several ways you can help to lessen the dangers of winter in developing countries and protect vulnerable children, with a donation to Orphans in Need being just one. Whether you make a Zakat donation or give Sadaqah Jariyah (e.g. sponsor an orphan), we will be able to use your donations to provide basic healthcare for those in need during winter and distribute essentials, hot food, blankets and thermal clothes. Every little helps. Please give what you can and help ease the suffering.