8 Oct 2014

Climate change link to poor health

7:26 pm on 8 October 2014

Climate change needs to be addressed as a health issue if Maori are to be saved from the worst effects of it, according to researchers.

A paper delivered at the Population Health Congress held in Auckland this week details how Maori health is the most at-risk in Aotearoa from climate change.

A group of Maori joined 300,000 climate change protesters in New York ahead of a UN summit
last month.

A group of Maori joined 300,000 climate change protesters in New York ahead of a UN summit last month. Photo: AFP / Getty Images North America

The research looked at scientific literature in an effort to connect the dots between climate and health. Lead author Rhys Jones says it will affect the health of everyone - but especially Maori, who are heavily employed in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

"Maori will be more affected by those sorts of things partly because we tend to have more chronic diseases, but also because we tend to be involved in more outdoor employment. Working and living outside."

Mr Jones said Maori would also be affected more than non-Maori by extreme weather.

"Because of poorer housing, poorer infrastructure, poorer access to healthcare Maori are likely to be much more severely affected by those sorts of extreme weather events like flooding and storms."

The co-convenor of the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, Alex Macmillan, said the the study approaches health and climate change as a singular issue for the first time.

"Firstly, it really places climate change first and foremost as a health issue not an environmental one. Then, coming back to fundamental human rights elevates this issue above the sort of day-to-day wranglings that go on around policies about climate change, to really basic, fundamental things that all New Zealanders can agree on."

Many Maori are employed in the forestry industry.

Many Maori are employed in the forestry industry. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The New Zealand director of Caritas, Julianne Hickey, says the study's findings reflect trends the charity is seeing in indigenous populations throughout the Pacific.

"It impacts their water, their food supplies, and if your water and your food supplies are being impacted on a daily basis it means your health is impacted as well."

Rhys Jones said policymakers need to work on reducing the effects of climate change, which could in turn improve the health of Maori, and there are a number of things that could be done.

"Like encouraging active transport, increased physical activity will also reduce our emissions. More investment in healthy housing, then we'll reduce our need for energy foot heating our homes.

"Also, it'll reduce our power bills - which is great for whanau, but will also contribute less carbon emissions. So there's a lot of areas where we can have win-wins."

Mr Jones said it is now up to the Government to act on reducing greenhouse gas emissions both domestically and globally.

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