Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at higher risk during and after emergencies due to impacts on the determinants of health and the exacerbation of chronic health conditions. They are also more likely than non-indigenous Australians to live in rural and remote areas with lower access to health services and other infrastructure 9.
As outlined in the 2021 Close the Gap report (pp 26-27):
- ‘Climate change presents a unique, and growing, risk to not only the physical health, but also the spiritual and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’
- ‘The harmful effects of climate change on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health are expected to increase.’
- ‘These impacts are compounded by social, cultural and environmental determinants of health.’
- ‘Traditional knowledge, land management and conservation practices are valuable resources for maintaining biological diversity and preserving important ecosystems and need to be an integral part of our national climate change mitigation efforts.’ 9
When preparing for an emergency, it is important to take into consideration the needs of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their connection to country and potential loss of culturally significant sites. Losing a particular site may mean the loss of an ability to perform cultural practices and may give rise to longer term grief.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are not homogenous and will need different approaches, collaboration and co-ordination to devise emergency response plans. General practices are encouraged to be in regular contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and their families to understand what they need, and how they may be able to provide appropriate care.
Evacuation plans need to be a collaborative process with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups to facilitate temporary relocation to culturally appropriate land, and they may need long term healing and counselling services to help adjust to the changes brought about by the emergency 10.
The ‘Close the Gap 2021’report and The Australian Indigenous Health InfoNet website provides information on collaborating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and local communities to ensure culturally appropriate emergency management plans.