Trees in a forest appear in silhouette, backlit by bright orange flames filling the background. The silhouette of a person walking between the trees can be seen.

Nanna Heitmann, Magnum Photos/Wellcome

Licence: All Rights Reserved

Global heating and human health – what’s the damage?

We know that the world is heating up, but what dangers does this pose for our health? How are people working to reduce these risks? The Wellcome Photography Prize commissioned three photographers from three different countries to each create a body of work to explore this.

As our planet gets hotter, the effects on human health will get worse. Infectious diseases that thrive in hot climates are spreading further. Food production and the safety of water supplies are being affected. The trend towards urbanisation is accelerating, with implications for pollution and respiratory conditions. And more extreme heatwaves can have devastating effects on our bodies.

These changes are different in different parts of the world – so we asked to see what’s happening where the photographers live. What are the local health problems caused by global heating? And what are people doing to cope with these changes or reduce their scale to protect current or future generations?

Content warning: graphic imagery


Florence Goupil
Huaraz, Peru

3,511 metres above sea level, surrounded by the snow-capped mountains of Huaraz, the Wari people in Llupa are facing an environmental disaster that is directly affecting their physical and mental health.

Climate change has impacted the natural stability of the area, manifested first by a massive thaw, then by long droughts due to lack of rain and by off-season extreme cold that damaged agricultural cycles and endangered the Wari’s food sovereignty.

According to the Peruvian Health Ministry, in the Ancash region there is a high rate of undernutrition, with at least 28% of children under the age of three having anaemia – and the situation has worsened since the pandemic.

Despite the difficulty of living in a territory with scarce rainfall and dryness, the Wari do not think of leaving their lands. The Huaraz valley is their ancestral land and they have nowhere else to go. Alone in the midst of an environmental catastrophe, they will continue to devote their knowledge and affection to their Apus, the mountain spirits, and to the land they love and will never abandon.

“If there is no food, what are we going to do?” asks Victor Vargas, a Wari elder. “Where are we going to go? Somewhere else? There won’t be space for us. No matter what happens we will die here.”

If the River dies 

Isabella Moore
Mardoowarra (Fitzroy) River, Australia

The Mardoowarra (Fitzroy) River is the lifeblood of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The River is threatened by extensive development proposals from the agriculture and mining industries within the River’s catchment area. This inspired the formation of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, an alliance of Traditional Owners from the different language groups connected to the River.

One of these groups is the Nyikina people, who have lived in symbiosis with the Mardoowarra for more than 60,000 years. Nyikina Elder Linda Nardea, and her son Kimberley Watson speak of how their people read Country like a book. Since colonisation, they’ve witnessed extractive industries slowly rewrite the ancient stories of their land and waters.

The Nyikina people refer to health and wellbeing as Marboo-joonoo Liyan. They understand that their Marboo-joonoo Liyan is intrinsically connected to Country. They witness how symptoms expressed through Country are connected to their own body, and how diseases we feel are also felt by Country. Linda says if “the land die, we die, the river die, we die. When we see those sorts of things happen, we get sick. The sickness shows in our body because we see bad things happen to our land.”

Kimberley says, “you look after Country, Country look after you”. With the ongoing climate crisis, the Nyikina way of being inspires us to question how we relate with our ecosystem. Are we willing to change how we treat Country? Whether we look at it through the Nyikina or the Western lens, if we don’t make that change soon, Country dies and so do we.

The Kingdom of Winter 

Nanna Heitmann
Yakutia, Russia

The Kingdom of Winter is heating up. Yakutia, a remote and vast region in Russia’s Siberian far east, reaching north into the Arctic Circle, is one of the coldest inhabited places on earth. It’s sometimes called the Kingdom of Winter. But Yakutia is quickly getting hotter.

For years, Arctic temperatures have been rising rapidly, faster than in the rest of the world. Even by those standards, the heatwave that roasted northern Siberia in the summer of 2020 was shocking. Thawing permafrost, huge wildfires, catastrophic floods and mosquito plagues are some of the dangers people in the region are experiencing more and more.

The town of Verkhoyansk is more than 400 miles farther north than Anchorage in Alaska. It topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit last summer, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic Circle. Verkhoyansk is surrounded by dense forests, where wildfires are now so common that the nights are no longer dark. The effects on the community’s health and ways of living are severe.

Nanna Heitmann travelled to central and northern Yakutia to see how the daily lives of the Yakut people have been heavily affected by the rising temperatures.