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University of Western Australia (2008)

Ecosystem health : the relationship between dryland salinity and human health

Speldewinde, Peter Christiaan

Titre : Ecosystem health : the relationship between dryland salinity and human health

Auteur : Speldewinde, Peter Christiaan

Université de soutenance : University of Western Australia

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy PhD 2008

Australia is experiencing widespread ecosystem degradation, including dryland salinity, erosion and vegetation loss. Approximately 1 million hectares (5.5%) of the south-west agricultural zone of Western Australia is affected by dryland salinity and is predicted to rise to 5.4 million hectares by 2050. Such degradation is associated with many environmental outcomes that may impact on human health, including a decrease in primary productivity, an increase in the number of invasive species, a decrease in the number of large trees, overall decrease in biodiversity, and an increase in dust production. The resulting degradation affects not only farm production but also farm values. This study examines the effects of such severe and widespread environmental degradation on the physical and mental health of residents. Western Australia has an extensive medical record database which links individual health records for all hospital admissions, cancer cases, births and deaths. For the 15 diseases examined in this project, the study area of the south west of Western Australia (excluding the capital city of Perth) contained 1,570,985 morbidity records and 27,627 mortality records for the 15 diseases examined in a population of approximately 460,000. Environmental data were obtained from the Western Australian Department of Agriculture s soil and landscape mapping database. A spatial Bayesian framework was used to examine associations between these disease and environmental variables. The Bayesian model detected the confounding variables of socio-economic status and proportion of the population identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. With the inclusion of these confounders in the model, associations were found between environmental degradation (including dryland salinity) and several diseases with known environmentally-mediated triggers, including asthma, ischaemic heart disease, suicide and depression. However, once records of individuals who had been diagnosed with coexistent depression were removed from the analysis, the effect of dryland salinity was no longer statistically detectable for asthma, ischaemic heart disease or suicide, although the effects of socio-economic status and size of the Aboriginal population remained. The spatial component of this study showed an association between land degradation and human health. These results indicated that such processes are driving the degree of psychological ill-health in these populations, although it remains uncertain whether this 4 is secondary to overall coexisting rural poverty or some other environmental mechanism. To further investigate this complex issue an instrument designed to measure mental health problems in rural communities was developed. Components of the survey included possible triggers for mental health, including environmental factors. The interview was administered in a pilot study through a telephone survey of a small number of farmers in South-Western Australia. Using logistic regression a significant association between the mental health of male farmers and dryland salinity was detected. However, the sample size of the survey was too small to detect any statistically significant associations between dryland salinity and the mental health of women. The results of this study indicate that dryland salinity, as with other examples of ecosystem degradation, is associated with an increased burden of human disease

Subject words : Environmental degradation — Health aspects • Environmental degradation — Psychological aspects • Soil salinization — Western Australia • Rural health — Western Australia • Rural mental health services — Western Australia

Présentation (National Library of Australia)

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Page publiée le 6 mars 2009, mise à jour le 7 juillet 2017