Climate change health assessment: a novel approach for Alaska Native communities

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Brubaker, Michael Y. ; Bell, Jacob N. ; Berner, James E. ; Warren, John A. (2012)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: International Journal of Circumpolar Health (issn: 1797-237X, eissn: 1239-9736)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/ijch.v70i3.17820
  • Subject: Indigenous, Arctic, climate change, Alaska Natives, health assessment

Objectives. Develop a process for assessing climate change impacts on public health that identifies climate-health vulnerabilities and mechanisms and encourages adaptation. Study design. Multi-stakeholder, participatory, qualitative research. Methods. A Climate Change Health Assessment (CCHA) was developed that involved 4 steps: (1) scoping to describe local conditions and engage stakeholders; (2) surveying to collect descriptive and quantitative data; (3) analysis to evaluate the data; and (4) planning to communicate findings and explore appropriate actions with community members. The health effects related to extreme weather, thinning ice, erosion, flooding, thawing permafrost and changing conditions of water and food resources were considered. Results. The CCHA process was developed and performed in north-west Arctic villages. Refinement of the process took place in Point Hope, a coastal Inupiat village that practices whaling and a variety of other traditional subsistence harvest practices. Local observers identified climate change impacts that resulted in damaged health infrastructure, compromised food and water security and increased risk of injury. Priority health issues included thawing traditional ice cellars, diminished quality of the community water source and increased safety issues related to sea ice change. The CCHA increased awareness about health vulnerability and encouraged informed planning and decision-making. Conclusion. A community-scale assessment process guided by observation-based data can identify climate health impacts, raise awareness and encourage adaptive actions, thereby improving the response capacity of communities vulnerable to climate change.(Int J Circumpolar Health 2011; 70(3):266-273)Keywords: Indigenous, Arctic, climate change, Alaska Natives, health assessment
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