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Climate Change Might Affect Australian Aborigines The Most

January 13, 2009

A report on Tuesday suggests Australia’s Aborigines will feel the impact of climate warming more than other Australians, as their remote outback homes and generally poor health making them particularly vulnerable.

Researchers wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that with temperatures in the tropical north and interior tipped to rise by three degrees Celsius by 2050, worsening already searing summer heat, the government must act fast to improve aboriginal health and housing.

The report said: “Elevated temperatures and increases in hot spells are expected to be a major problem for indigenous health in remote areas, where cardiovascular and respiratory disease are more prevalent and there are many elderly people with inadequate facilities to cope with the increased heat stress.”

Making up about 2 percent of the population, Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Climate change would likely bring increasing rates of cardiovascular and respiratory disease to Aborigines, and create ideal breeding conditions for mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever.

They said other diseases such as bacterial diarrhea, common in hot, dry areas like Australia’s desert interior and north, could rise by 18 percent among aboriginal communities.

Australia is already the world’s driest inhabited continent and is already experiencing an accelerated form of climate shift, according to climate scientists. The government hopes to help lead global negotiations this year on a post-Kyoto climate pact.

A carbon-trading regime is expected next year in a bid to slash greenhouse gas emissions from one of the world’s highest per-head levels.

Aborigines are also more at risk because of their close ties to traditional lands, where the health of people was often tied to the health of the environment around them.

“If the community-owned country (land) becomes “sick” through environmental degradation, climate impacts, or inability of the traditional owners to fulfill cultural obligations through ongoing management and habitation of their land, the people of that land will feel this “sickness” themselves,” it said.

Australia needs to change course on aboriginal health and broaden focus beyond western scientific methods, possibly creating a national Aborigine health college to help educate more indigenous health workers, the report concluded.

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