Human Health

A Sensitive Sector

Human health and well-being are intimately linked to climate and weather patterns. Under climate change, the populations of the Prairies may experience additional negative health burdens from air pollution, food-borne pathogens, heat-related illnesses, poor mental health, particulate matter, water-borne pathogens and vector-borne diseases Subpopulations most at risk for negative health consequences are children, the elderly, Aboriginal peoples, those with low socioeconomic status, the homeless and people with underlying health conditions. Aspects of changing climate that directly and indirectly affect health and well-being of Prairies residents include drought, flooding, ecosystem changes and increased temperatures.

Notwithstanding the risks, Saskatchewan has a strong health system infrastructure, and strong adaptive capacity to health challenges.

What you should know

The Future Climate:

  • Saskatchewan's climate is expected to be:
    • warmer,
    • drier,
    • more variable and
    • experience more frequent and more intense extreme events (e.g. precipitation, drought).
  • Precipitations patterns will change - generally wetter springs and drier summers
  • Droughts may increase in intensity and duration
  • The growing season is expected to:
    • be longer,
    • start earlier.
    • be warmer
    • have an overall increase in accumulated heat units.

Anticipated Impacts

The Positive Impacts of Climate Change:
  • Warmer temperatures may decrease the number of cold-related deaths. 
  • Warmer winters may reduce the period of "shut-in" for Saskatchewan residents and enable them to be outdoors for a longer portion of the year, with possible health benefits.
The Negative Impacts of Climate Change:
  • Human health concern with climate change is largely associated with extreme events including drought, flooding and severe storms. These events are expected to become more frequent. 
  • Drought can increase the concentration of pathogens and toxins in domestic water supplies. It enhances dust production and fire hazard, both of which can lead to respiratory problems. 
  • Flooding can set the stage for a population explosion of disease - via vectors, such as mosquitoes and rodents. Outbreaks of water-borne disease have been linked to intense precipitation, flooding and run-off from agricultural livestock areas. Moulds and mildew and the associated respiratory ailments can arise from extremely wet conditions.
  • Mental health issues, often associated with increased stress, can arise from all extreme events - drought, fire, flooding and associated economic losses. Historically, in Saskatchewan droughts have caused serious stress, especially on farms and in rural communities.
  • Smoke from forest fires can be a health hazard, especially in northern communities. Fire frequency is increasing.
Who's Most Vulnerable:
  • Groups most at risk for negative health consequences are children, the elderly, Aboriginal peoples, those with low socioeconomic status, the homeless and people with underlying health conditions. 
  • The vulnerabilities of prairie populations to climate change - higher temperatures, drought, extreme hydrological events and changing ecosystems, are summarized below.
Groups With Increased Vulnerability to Climate Change
People with underlying health conditions
  • Cardiovascular and respiratory conditions increase risk
  • Medications decrease capacity to deal with heat
  • Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, alcohol abuse and dementia, are a risk factor for death during heat waves
  • Reduced mobility or a need for regular medical attention makes evacuation more difficult
People of lower socioeconomic status
  • Associated with poorer health overall
  • Have less control over life's circumstances, especially stressful events, and are less able to better their outcome
  • More likely to be located in higher risk areas
  • Higher heat-related mortality is associated with lower income neighbourhoods
  • Less likely to afford recovery or adaptation measures - Homelessness is often associated with underlying mental health conditions (see above)
Northern/Rural Aboriginal Peoples
  • More likely to have lower socio-economic status
  • Traditional livelihoods at risk
  • Poorer infrastructure
  • Limited access to medical services
  • Immature systems and rapid growth and development may enhance toxicity and penetration of pollutants, decrease capacity to deal with heat and increase vulnerability to water and food-borne diseases
  • Exposure per unit body mass is higher than for adults
  • Dependent on adult caregivers - Lower coping capacity
  • More likely to have underlying health conditions (see above)
  • Social isolation and decreased social networks
  • More susceptible to food-borne diseases
  • Fixed incomes
  • 50+ age group at greater risk of developing severe West Nile virus illness

Moving Forward - Adaptation Options:

  • Adaptation measures should build on or expand current public health policies and practices to make them more effective under climate change, or to target particularly vulnerable populations. Issues to be addressed include boil water advisories, infectious diseases monitoring and surveillance, and emergency preparedness and planning.
  • A variety of adaptation strategies are required and may include: 
    • coordination and information sharing among various levels of government and health care providers; 
    • increased monitoring and surveillance, 
    • increased public education and alert systems, 
    • improved pollution and disaster management. 


  1. Climate Change Saskatchewan (no date): Human Health, Well-being and Safety in Saskatchewan: Dealing with a Changing Climate. [accessed March 16, 2010]
  2. Sauchyn, D.J. and Kulshreshtha, S. (2008): Prairies; in From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007, (eds.) D.S. Lemmen, F.J. Warren, J. Lacroix, and E. Bush; Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, p. 275-328.
  3. Sauchyn, D. et al (2009): Saskatchewan's Natural Capital in a Changing Climate: An Assessment of Impacts and Adaptation. 162 pp.