Australia’s outback Aborigines will be among the worst affected by climate change as soaring temperatures likely cause more disease and spur distress about the changing landscape, a new report shows.
The expert report, published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, argues that the country’s remote indigenous communities are the most vulnerable to changing environmental conditions.
“Their vulnerability to climate change is intensified by the social and economic disadvantage they already experience — the result of factors that include decades of inadequate housing and public services, and culturally inappropriate medical services,” the journal said in an editorial.
“In addition, specific cultural ties between indigenous people’s wellbeing and the ‘health’ of their ‘country’ create significant indirect impacts of climate change.”
Donna Green, co-author of the journal report and a climate change researcher at the University of New South Wales, said rising temperatures could increase the incidence of diseases such as dengue fever and harm the health of elderly and chronically sick people living in remote areas.
“They will just have very low resources to be able to cope with change and to be able to get access to health (services),” she told AFP.
But Aboriginal communities, already the most disadvantaged in the country, would also suffer from seeing the ancestral lands to which they have a spiritual connection harmed by the impact of climate change, she said.
“Many communities, if they are seeing their ecosystems change, plants and animals doing things at different times — flowering at different times or particular totemic animals breeding or appearing at different times — then that can cause a lot of social unease,” Green said.
“Because people just don’t feel like they are looking after their country properly; that they aren’t managing their country for their ancestors.”
Green said the researchers wanted to draw attention to the fact that climate change would not affect all Australians equally.
“We are aware that these problems are going to get bigger unless we do something about it now,” she said.
Australia’s original inhabitants were marginalised after the first British settlers arrived in 1788 and now number just 470,000 out of a population of 21 million.
They have much higher rates of infant mortality, health problems and suicide than other Australians, with many living in squalid camps where unemployment, alcoholism and lawlessness are rife.