Sunday, October 26, 2008

State to study health impact of climate change

Peter Ker 
The Age, October 27, 2008

FEARS that climate change will damage the health of Victorians have prompted a major investigation by the state's health officials.

Amid warnings that climate change could lead to more cases of heat-related illness, mosquito-borne viruses, food poisoning and depression around the world, Victoria's Department of Human Services has confirmed it has commissioned its own investigation into the extent to which Victorians might be affected.

In a move described as both "heartening" and "long overdue" by prominent health experts, work on the project is due to begin in January under the working title "climate change impacts on population health and vulnerabilities".

The study has been asked to identify the Victorian health system's major "vulnerabilities" to climate change, as well as the adaptive capacity of Victorians and their Government.

It has also been charged with establishing how certain the relationship is between climate change and health issues.

The Age believes that DHS has already started pilot programs into the development of "heatwave emergency systems".

DHS held a conference on the issue last October. Spokesman Bram Alexander said the large number of heat-related deaths in Europe over recent years had drawn attention to the role of climate change in health policy.

"Severe heatwaves in Europe have caused deaths in recent years, and we are keen to be well prepared for the impacts that climate change may have upon public health and the challenges it may bring," he said.

"Climate change could have varying impacts on public health in different parts of Victoria. Regions like Mildura may need a different approach to that in South Gippsland."

The investigation was likely to run for several years, Mr Alexander said. It would formulate strategies for five, 10 and 15-year increments.

The move follows calls from a wide range of groups, including the Australian Medical Association, the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation, for governments to better address the issue.

This year the World Health Organisation declared the theme of this year's World Health Day to be "protecting health from climate change".

Experts have warned that climate change may bring a new range of "green" crimes, from rorts of environmental labelling to fraud on the multibillion-dollar emission trading scheme and theft of water and other scarce materials and even increased domestic violence.

The warning is contained in a report from the the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the impact of climate change on Australia's eight police forces and 45,000 officers.

Authors Anthony Bergin and Ross Allen said that in a booming emissions-trading market, there would always be a high possibility of fraud by a "green shoe brigade".

The authors said weather extremes could encourage criminal behaviour, including increased domestic violence and a rise in other anti-social behaviour that could increase after disasters.

Last year Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said climate change could eclipse terrorism as the security issue of the century.


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