The government must address the health impacts of climate disasters on Australians, according to a group of leading advocates who are calling on more budget support for the health sector to deal with these major events.
Experts from the Climate and Health Alliance (CHA), comprised of 89 Australian health organisations, have pointed to the latest natural disaster to devastate local communities in Queensland and NSW to show just how unprepared the health sector is to reckon with a future of more of the same.
Its advocates are calling for the government to open the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) to pay for emergency response, disaster recovery and preparedness in Australia, among other budget measures.
In a statement, CHA director Fiona Armstrong said she could not understand how the ERF had not yet been accessed to address immediate and relevant problems faced by the community, despite generating $751 million in interest in 2021.
“An annual investment of $200 million in disaster preparedness and recovery would help secure the long-term resilience of Australian communities, and save money in the medium to long-term,” Armstrong said.
Dr Tony Capon, director of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is a planetary health expert. In his view, the government has not adequately built a climate-resilient health system or national plan to protect people from the kind of extreme natural disasters like bushfire, drought and flood that devastates Australian communities.
“Australia is now over a decade behind the UK,” Capon said.
“The National Health Service in the UK is striving to be the world’s first net-zero health system. The UK government has also committed to far more substantial emissions cuts across all industrial sectors.”
The CHA has also called for the government to set up a national climate change and health committee, which will include representation from ministers at the commonwealth, state and territory levels.
The key funding announcements the CHA wants to see the government commit include $2 million for a national strategy on climate and health; $3 million per annum to lift the capacity of the health sector to respond to climate-related health impacts; and another $10 million for a new unit dedicated to national healthcare sustainability and climate resilience with a goal of net-zero emissions in healthcare by 2035.
“COVID-19 has illustrated the risks to our society when the health system is overwhelmed. Climate-related disasters and the pandemic are placing enormous pressure on our health system and workforce,” Armstrong said.
“This budget must invest in health-focused climate action and disaster prevention as an urgent priority.”