AMA submission to the Inquiry into recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events

30 Jan 2013

Against a backdrop of unprecedented heatwaves, bushfire destruction, and severe flooding, the capacity of communities and services across Australia to respond to climatic extremes is under intense scrutiny.

This submission responds to a Federal Inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for extreme weather events. It summarises the key health risks associated with extreme weather events; assesses the state of preparedness for these risks within and outside the health sector; and recommends steps to improve Australia’s capacity to meet the associated health impacts.

Although inroads have been made in some jurisdictions, the submission identifies fundamental policy flaws and gaps.

This preparedness gap includes not only infrastructure and capacity, but also limitations in knowledge and awareness, the availability of reliable decision support tools, and mechanisms for coordinating the efforts of different sectors and tiers of government. Current policy responses are fragmented, with limited investment and long-term planning to reduce future health risks. We need a better understanding of regions and populations at the greatest risk, including localised information that combines projected weather changes with relevant health and demographic data.

Understanding and overcoming these various challenges is fundamental if the damaging health effects of future extreme weather are to be reduced. Given such events are predicted to increase as the climate changes, the AMA calls upon Australian governments to develop a comprehensive and coordinated national strategy for climate change and health.