Alison Barrett writes:
This week, communities right across Australia have experienced disasters and extreme weather events in the latest reminders of the critical need for significant and urgent action on climate change.
As communities near Katherine in the Northern Territory and north-western Queensland have dealt with serious flooding, people in NSW faced heatwave warnings and others battled a large bushfire in central western New South Wales, with dozens of other fires causing concern around the state.
In the NT, about 600-700 people from Kalkarindji, Daguragu and Pigeon Hole have been evacuated and now are sheltering in the Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs near Darwin, according to Sinon Cooney, CEO of the Katherine West Health Board (KWHB).
Both Daguragu and Pigeon Hole communities were totally inundated by flood waters, suffering damage to housing and community infrastructure including the health clinic, a school and police station, Cooney told Croakey.
“We’re sort of gearing up for it to be potentially several months of people being displaced,” Cooney said.
Challenges in the region include ongoing food supply issues and isolation, as some communities have been impacted by rain and road closures for many months, Cooney told Croakey.
Despite the current and long-term challenges, Cooney has been impressed by the response from NT Government, emergency services and communities. “The really great story from it is the collaboration and the way people work together in these situations,” he said. “People are now safe.”
The communities in Howard Springs are being well looked after, according to Cooney, with many social and health services provided, as well as activities and schooling for children. The KWHB have a team of healthcare workers at the facility also to enable continuity and familiarity of care for patients.
Cooney acknowledged the “recovery is going to be tough” and it will put a spotlight on “housing inequality and the difficulties in which Aboriginal people face living in remote Australia and the lack of suitable housing”.
The concurrent floods in WA and NT this year stress the disproportionate impact that climate emergencies have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and residents of rural and remote communities.
Impact on women
An International Women’s Day event hosted by the Climate Council shining the light on ‘women on the frontline of climate change’ highlighted the disproportionate impact that climate emergencies have on women and children.
Sabene Gomes, Senior Manager of the Program Delivery Unit at CARE Australia, spoke of last week’s twin cyclones in Vanuatu, impacting 80 percent of the island nation’s population.
“Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change driven disasters,” Gomes said, acknowledging that for families without financial security, “women are often tasked with producing food and collecting water”.
They’re also often excluded from making decisions that affect their lives, Gomes said, emphasising that “women need to occupy at least half of the chairs at the table so they can advocate for solutions that best meet their experiences”.
The webinar also discussed the need to consider different ways of tackling climate change and different forms of leadership, particularly with more women in leadership roles.
Former Deputy Commissioner and Deputy Chief Executive of Fire and Rescue NSW Rosemary Milkins PSM told the webinar, “We really live by a Western paradigm of leadership.” When you think of the ancient Greeks and Romans speaking on a podium, “you see a man in your mind’s eye”.
Milkins said she has seen an increase in women leaders over her career, but sometimes “women don’t realise what they need to bring to that leadership role” particularly if it’s in a traditionally male-dominated sector such as emergency services.
Milkins suggested that feminine qualities such as compassion, concern for broader community and diversity of ideas are valuable.
Dr Jennifer Rayner, Head of Advocacy at Climate Council, told the webinar that she values working in climate change and having the opportunity to “build a more equitable and inclusive economy and society”.
Rayner said if we think back to the “Industrial Revolution, where all of this problem kicked off with harmful climate pollutions, those economic systems have also been incredibly disadvantageous and restrictive for women”. We have an opportunity “to transform Australia’s economy and to work towards a much cleaner future”, she said.
Rikki Dank, Gudanji and Wakaya person and registered nurse from Borroloola, NT, told the webinar that she feels lucky to come from Gudanji Country, “which is women’s country, where women, particularly older women, get to make the decisions for their country and how our country is cared for”.
Dank’s message to Australia’s leaders is for them to get to local communities and speak to “people locally about how things should be done” as how things are done in “Sydney are not necessarily going to work for things in Borroloola”.
Meanwhile, climate policy is being hotly contested in the national Parliament, with MPs discussing proposed changes to the safeguard mechanism climate policy – aimed at regulating Australia’s biggest industrial emitters.
In another webinar hosted by the Climate Council this week, panellists discussed flaws and loopholes in the safeguard mechanism, highlighting new modelling that indicates emissions will not be reduced unless there is a commitment to no new gas and coal projects.
“We’re powerfully advocating against any new coal and gas projects,” Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie told the webinar.
However, Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen has said (here and here) that the Labor Party do not plan on banning new coal and gas projects.
Watch the ABC video here.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on climate and health.
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