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Introduction to Climate Change

Climate change can be referred to as the alteration in the trends of the weather along with a related change in the oceans, surfaces of land and sheets of ice that take place over a scale of time, which is a decade or longer. Change in climate can also be considered to be the changes in the statistical properties of the atmosphere such as average, variation and extremes of temperature. Such changes may occur due to natural processes as well as artificial processes ("What is climate change? | Australian Academy of Science", 2022). Sun’s radiation, volcanic eruptions or variation in the internal system of climate along with human activities such as alteration of the composition of the atmosphere due to emission of green house gases and irrational usage of land. It was found that change in climate is impacting the health and well-being of the people of Australia to a great extent ("Climate adaptation in Australia", 2022). Especially, the Aboriginals and Torres-Strait Islanders are very much vulnerable to influence of climate change greatly. In this essay, the impact of altered climatic conditions of the earth on the sustenance of healthy living and well-being of the Aboriginal population along with that of the Torres Strait Islanders shall be discussed.

Hall et al. (2021) stated that Indigenous Australians, namely the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders are prone to particular risk from climate changes partly as a result of demographic characteristics. These people conceptualise healthy living differently from other Australians. Personal, ecological and social are highly intertwined for them. Health in this community is a state of balance. There is a deep connection of the community to their country-land and they portray a spiritual connection to the same with which they possess some material rights. Ecological and environmental disruptions are considered to be physically and mentally challenging and harmful (Lansbury Hall & Crosby, 2022). Climate change upsets a plethora of spiritually significant rhythms and relationships of ecology.

Adverse health impacts from rise in climate include heat-related diseases, vector-borne diseases, respiratory and skin ailments and aggravation of metabolic diseases such as chronic kidney and heart diseases. There have been a profound increase in the occurrence of tuberculosis due to an increase in rainfall, humidity and temperature which are factors aggravated by a change in the climate.  According to Hall et al. (2021), there were around 25 cases of tuberculosis that had been reported among the Indigenous population between 2014 and 2019. An increase in temperature results in an increase in the number mosquito population and as a result vector borne diseases are likely to increase among Aboriginals and Torres-strait islanders. Dengue is a climate-sensitive disease and its incidence is noted to increase due to the rise in temperature, rainfall and humidity. In the past six years, there have been almost 40 cases of dengue reported in the Cape and Torres regions of Australia (Akter et al., 2021). This population has seen also suffered from other vector borne diseases such as the Nipah virus, malaria, Kunjin virus, rift valley fever and many others.

How Climate change impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' Communities

Another disease known as Meliodiosis caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei is found to be present in the water and soil of the Torres regions of Australia. It is a concerning pathogen that causes pneumonia which is acquired by the community as a whole. Nontuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) can lead to the development of a slow and progressive lung disorder along with trauma in the skin (Caminade, McIntyre & Jones, 2019). NTM is also considered a climate-sensitive disease which has been found to increase exposure to aerosolized bacteria and its movement in the soil and water. It compromises the safety of the water supply in the regions of Aboriginals. Vecchio, Dickson & Zhang (2022) opined that the people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island regions are the population who are immensely vulnerable faces adverse impacts of mental health disorder due to climate change. Cumulative changes in climate change climate enhanced non-clinical impacts on health such as depression and anxiety which had repeated and ongoing exposure. There are also indirect impacts of climate change which are exacerbated through several mechanisms of vulnerability among the people of this community which were related to loss of land, culture, food scarcity and other disadvantages of the socio-economic genre (Middleton et al., 2020). This eventually has compromised the mental well-being and healthy living of indigenous people. Thus, it is very important to connect with the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders so that they can collectively respond to climate change.

Vecchio, Dickson & Zhang (2022) stated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have access to resources like water and food in their native land while they managed to sustain these resources in a very careful manner, trying to prevent their depletion in the future times. Colonization among the Aboriginal community has disrupted the connections of the community which is acutely felt in the present day. Dispossession of land, social as well as cultural dislocation along with systematic genocide has created trauma among the generations of this community having devastating consequences for the well-being and health of the people of this community. Moreover, interpersonal racism has led to the inculcation of socio-economic exclusion along with mistrust among the mainstream institutions. Eventually it leads to disruption of emotional well-being and chronic differences across indicators of socio-economic health between the Aboriginal community and non-Aboriginal community of Australia. There are other interlinking connections between mental health and the well-being of Australians (Berry et al., 2018). The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the effectiveness of the Aboriginal community in responding to a variety of complex health issues.  

Heatwaves influence the productivity of the workforce and exacerbate the already existing chronic diseases among the population of Aboriginals. It has been found that there is a profound increase in the number of heat-related mortality due to an increase in temperature. If the population can acclimatize to the hot temperatures, it can offer some amount of protection to their health. The rise of extreme temperature increases the core body temperature affects the functioning of motor-cognitive parts and thereby increases the chances of occurrence of occupational accidents and injuries (Carmichael et al., 2018). It has been found that a rise in body temperature can make outcomes of pregnancy adverse. Due to exposure to high heat, people reduce their physical activity level, thereby making a person immobile. Due to the occurrence of hotspells interpersonal violence among Aboriginals is triggered and levels of social intolerance increase from heat irritation. For people living in coastal areas, the elevation of sea-water level poses devastating consequences by causing relocation from traditional homelands to distant places which includes inundation of the townships, sites of burial and breeding grounds of turtles (Berry et al., 2018).

Disease and Health Impacts from Rise in Climate and Temperature

Improving the health of the indigenous population is a major priority currently. For this, there has been the implementation of several policies which can help in making the lives of the people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island better by mitigating the crisis of health that they face (AIHW, 2022). The United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People is supported by the Australian Government which sets some minimal standards by affirming certain basic rights which shall safeguard the survival rights and dignity of the Aboriginal community. The National Water Initiative has been implemented to control mismanagement of water thereby ensuring a balanced distribution to the people of the community. Some policy initiatives are being incorporated to address the severe impacts of climate change and bring about sustainable development among the indigenous communities (Dannenberg et al., 2019). The Climate and Health Alliance has created a framework for the Australian government to bring about the integration of climate change action as well as health, while directing the policymakers to identify the essentiality of establishing a connection between the indigenous land and the health and well-being of the people of this community. The various policies implemented collaboratively work along with community engagement to sustain climate and thereby reduce adverse impacts on health.

It can be concluded from the above essay that the impacts of climate change on the health and well-being of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are severe and steps must be taken in the communities so that adaptive capacity can be built among the residents of the community. For this, the proper and solid action plan must be enforced which would respect and value the values and rights of the Aboriginal community. Climate change is inevitable but through sincere and coordinated efforts of the government and the community, it shall be possible to overcome the adversities of climate change quite efficiently.

Reference List

AIHW. (2022). Australia's health 2020: in brief, Summary - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved 22 April 2022, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2020-in-brief/summary.

Akter, R., Hu, W., Gatton, M., Bambrick, H., Cheng, J., & Tong, S. (2021). Climate Variability, Socio-ecological Factors and Dengue Transmission in Tropical Queensland, Australia: A Bayesian spatial analysis, Environmental Research, vol. 195. DOI: 10.1016/j. envres.2020.110285

Berry, H. L., Waite, T. D., Dear, K. B., Capon, A. G., & Murray, V. (2018). The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health. Nature climate change, 8(4), 282-290. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0102-4

Carmichael, B., Wilson, G., Namarnyilk, I., Nadji, S., Brockwell, S., Webb, B., ... & Bird, D. (2018). Local and Indigenous management of climate change risks to archaeological sites. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 23(2), 231-255. DOI: 10.1007/s11027-016-9734-8

Climate adaptation in Australia. https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/adaptation. (2022). Retrieved 22 April 2022, from https://www.awe.gov.au/science-research/climate-change/adaptation.

Dannenberg, A. L., Frumkin, H., Hess, J. J., & Ebi, K. L. (2019). Managed retreat as a strategy for climate change adaptation in small communities: public health implications. Climatic Change, 153(1), 1-14. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-019-02382-0

Hall, N. L., Barnes, S., Canuto, C., Nona, F., & Redmond, A. M. (2021). Climate change and infectious diseases in Australia's Torres Strait Islands. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 45(2), 122-128. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.13073

Lansbury Hall, N., & Crosby, L. (2022). Climate change impacts health in remote indigenous communities in Australia. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 32(3), 487-502. DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2020.1777948

Vecchio, E. A., Dickson, M., & Zhang, Y. (2022). Indigenous mental health and climate change: A systematic literature review. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 100121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joclim.2022.100121

What is climate change? | Australian Academy of Science. Science.org.au. (2022). Retrieved 22 April 2022, from https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-climate-change/1-what-is-climate-change.

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