Heat-related extreme events, such as wildfires and heatwaves, have historically imposed a burden on Australian society, and according to rigorous and robust scientific literature, it is expected that there will be an increase in frequency, intensity and duration of these types of natural hazards. Within Australia, wildfires and heatwaves are currently responsible for more than 60% of all direct fatalities related to natural hazards, and it is highly likely that this is an underestimation of all deaths as some health impacts are not routinely quantified (e.g. premature death related to air pollution from wildfire smoke exposure). Deaths attributable to heatwaves and fire smoke pollution are more commonly due to exacerbations of pre-existing health conditions, than to specific direct impacts such as heat stroke. Some groups, such as the elderly, infants and those with pre-existing conditions, tend to be more vulnerable to these impacts. Furthermore, evidence suggests that there are synergistic additional impacts when exposed to high temperature and air pollution and that probably health impacts are considerably underestimated in the case of some specific groups such as those with occupational chronic exposure to fire smoke. To avoid increases in public health effects, society at all levels needs to increase its adaptive capacity. Measures need to be taken from a planning and management perspective through to community response at a local level, adequately focusing resources to include vulnerable sectors and population groups.
SOURCE: Borchers Arriagada N., Bowman D.M.J.S., Palmer A.J., Johnston F.H. “Climate Change, Wildfires, Heatwaves and Health Impacts in Australia.” In: Akhtar R. (eds) Extreme Weather Events and Human Health. Springer, Cham, 16 November 2019.
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