Climate change is bad for Inuit health, research group says

McGill group says the Arctic needs better adaptation policies


Inuit are vulnerable to climate change, and it’s time for new policy to adapt, a group of researchers says in a new report

That’s the message from the Climate Change Adaptation Research Group, led by James Ford of McGill University, who released a paper April 24 about the need for better adaption strategies, especially in health, for Inuit.

Adaptation to climate change is “the biggest challenge for global public health this century,” the researchers cite, but few studies are done about how the Arctic should adapt.

The goal of their paper is to “initiate and inform debate on health adaptations for Inuit populations by outlining key considerations.”

They list examples health impacts that are linked to climate change.

Death or injury because of travelling on the land is one example.

Inuit are vulnerable because land skills are less likely to be passed down to youth, changing conditions make conditions difficult to predict, and some northerners can’t afford safety equipment like GPS devices or life jackets.

Another example: the link with mental trauma.

The researchers say land-based knowledge provides mental or emotional strength.

But weakened cultural activities and identity, erosion of land based skills and weakened mental health strategies make Inuit vulnerable to change.

“Changing climatic conditions make the mental health programs difficult to run,” their paper said.

Another vulnerability is the cash economy and the growing community cost of hunting. These lead to food insecurity, the researchers said.

Their paper says Ottawa invested “only $16 million” for climate change and health research between 1999 and 2009 — about $3 million of that went towards adaptation.

That’s not nearly enough “for a problem as complex and potentially damaging to human and environmental health as climate change.”

The researchers suggest 15 potential policies for adaption, which are to :

• enhance surveillance, monitoring and early warning health systems;

• evaluate search and rescue and public health and surveillance systems;

• provide more emergency preparedness education;

• recognize, promote traditional health systems;

• encourage poverty alleviation initiatives;

• strengthen role of Inuit in decision-making;

• enhance access to health services such as clean water, food, employment opportunities, safe shelter;

• adopt culturally appropriate health services and programming;

• add culturally appropriate materials to school curriculum;

• strengthen land-based training;

• promote traditional knowledge;

• increase knowledge sharing;

• create cultural programming;

• apply climate change screening lens to policy programs; and,

• educate health practitioners about climate-related health impacts.

To read the entire paper, click here.

The group also has a website called IK-ADAPT.

The goal of that initiative is combining scientific research and Inuit knowledge to develop adaptation policy for Inuit.

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