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Disproportionate burdens: the multidimensional impacts of climate change on the health of Indigenous Australians

Donna Green, Ursula King and Joe Morrison
Med J Aust 2009; 190 (1): 4-5.

For Indigenous Australians, the “health of country” is inextricably linked with human health

The impacts of climate change on human health are now being documented in Australia.1 Not surprisingly, these impacts are unequally distributed across our society, as vulnerability depends on a number of factors, including the degree of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. However, intranational heterogeneity of climate impacts on health has not been adequately documented to date.2 Using this lens, the vulnerability of Australia’s Indigenous people living in remote areas of the country is revealed. 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. In addition, specific cultural ties between Indigenous people’s wellbeing and the “health” of their “country” create significant indirect impacts of climate change.3,4 We argue that it is vital to acknowledge the significance of this situation now, so that anticipatory adaptive policies can be implemented. Such policies should ensure that adequate resources are provided to mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change on these communities, in a way that encourages community participation in decision making.

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  • Donna Green1
  • Ursula King2
  • Joe Morrison3

  • 1 Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.
  • 3 North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT.

Correspondence: donna.green@unsw.edu.au

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  • 3. Campbell D, Stafford Smith M, Davies J, et al. Responding to health impacts of climate change in the Australian desert. Rural Remote Health 2008; 8: 1008.
  • 4. Green D. Climate change and health: impacts on remote Indigenous communities in northern Australia. Melbourne: CSIRO, 2006.
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  • 9. Morrison J. Case study: building land management capacity through an Aboriginal worldview in south-east Arnhem Land from 1996–2001. Ngukurr News 2002 Sep; No. 33.
  • 10. Green D. Climate impacts on the health of remote northern Australian Indigenous communities. In: Garnaut climate change review. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Climate Change, 2008. http://www.garnautreview.org.au/CA25734E0016A131/WebObj/03-CIndigenous/$File/03-C%20Indigenous.pdf (accessed Nov 2008).
  • 11. Marmot M, Wilkinson R, editors. Social determinants of health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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