Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) recently released a fact sheet on bushfires and health in Australia. The following are excerpts from that publication relevant to all Gippsanders. Note for references go to the original.
“Extreme fire weather has increased in Australia over the last 30 years. Our fire-prone continent is at particular risk from the impacts of climate change, and we are experiencing more extreme heat events, an increase in severe fire danger days and a longer fire season…The south-east and south-west of the country is especially vulnerable to bush fires. Modelling of weather projections across these areas show increasingly hot and dry conditions for longer periods over the coming decades.
Destructive fires generally occur when a period of hot dry weather with strong winds follows a season of high rainfall that has created a large fuel load. Accidental ignition, lightning or arson can start a fire which spreads rapidly, becomes fast moving and difficult to control. The health impacts of bushfires can be severe and long lasting, but can be reduced through bushfire prevention, preparation and education…
“Bushfires can have profound and devastating consequences. They can also place significant pressure on communities that will only worsen with climate change.
“Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of bushfires in Australia, exposing more people, especially the most vulnerable, to sickness and death. There will be increasing demands on our communities, fire-fighting resources and health services. An urgent response is required to protect communities and human health…
“People exposed to radiant heat while fighting fires are vulnerable to heat stress from very hot and dry conditions, potentially compounded by the necessary use of heavy protective clothing. Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to reduce its temperature adequately. Heat related illness can be mild to severe. Early signs of heat stress may include dizziness, weakness or fatigue. More severe illness may progress to include confusion, altered behaviour, hot dry skin, vomiting or rapid breathing. The most severe form of heat stress is heat stroke, which can be fatal.
“Doctors for the Environment Australia calls for: • Urgent action to mitigate climate change, by reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including our usage and reliance on fossil fuels. Australia’s GHG mitigation policies are currently inadequate to limit warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and need to be revised. • A nationally coordinated approach to the health impacts of climate change, including preventing and managing the health impacts of bushfires. This could include strengthening community and health care capacity to cope with bushfires, including improved education and training of health care workers, and raising public awareness of the acute and long-term health effects of bushfire smoke. • For those affected by bushfires, recovery plans and adequate funding should be put in place to cope with long- term health effects.