Editorial: Putting climate and health on the agenda

  • Collage of drought , vector bourne, soil, food scarcity images
National Rural Health Alliance
Gabrielle O'Kane,
Chief Executive Officer

Welcome to the first Partyline for 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is quite rightly front and centre for all Australians right now. These are trying times for all sectors of the community, particularly health professionals, who will have major challenges and adjustments to make to their lives and practice over the coming months and possibly years.

We have been working on this issue of Partyline since the start of the year. At the time bushfires were devastating much of Australia and climate change was thrust into the spotlight. Our members and other stakeholders have told us that climate change should be one of our key priorities, which led to the focus on climate in this Partyline. Contributions have been sought from members, Friends and others in the sector over the last couple of months. While we feel that everyone’s immediate focus is and should be on COVID-19 at the moment (including ours), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to highlight other issues, particularly those as serious as climate change. Climate change is a global threat that requires coordinated and immediate action from all levels of government – in many ways not dissimilar to the response we’re currently seeing to COVID-19.

The Alliance’s vision is for healthy and sustainable rural, regional and remote communities and we can’t ignore the threat that climate change poses to this. Late last year we launched our position statement that outlines some of the key challenges that climate change poses to rural Australia. There’s the obvious things like the impact of extreme weather events such as bushfires, but there’s also broader matters, such as an increase and change in the pattern of vector-borne diseases, food insecurity from changes in land use, crop yield, biodiversity loss and drought, and migration and forced displacement. In addition to our position statement and advocacy in the media, we hosted a Parliamentary Friends event in February where we took these key messages to politicians.

I am very pleased with the content in this issue – the first time we have highlighted climate change and extreme weather events as a theme for Partyline. Some highlights include some harrowing personal stories, such as former Partyline editor Susan Magnay’s account of bushfires on New Year’s Eve at Malua Bay, some impassioned calls for action, such as the article from members of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine’s Public Health and Disaster Committee, and articles exploring some of the lesser-known impacts of climate change such as Exercise and Sports Science Australia’s piece on how climate change affects physical activity. There’s even some poetry as well.

Thank you to all our contributors and advertisers – the response to this climate-themed issue has been very positive. Clearly the theme has struck a chord and we should take that as a sign that climate change is a key issue for rural communities.

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