How Does Climate Change Impact Indigenous Health?

Asim Mudgal
Asim Mudgal
Asim Mudgal is an aspiring writer creating space for self-development and inclusivity.

Indigenous people are highly vulnerable to climate change and the health conditions that are so irreplaceable. The land is the essential element for the development of individuals, and the inequities cause them to suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Likewise, the variable shifts in the form of mental stability and wellness are affected.

Accordingly, the research shows that acute and short-term weather variables like storms, flooding, seasonality, and temperature are linked to a range of psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological resilience, and behavioural disorders. Additionally, changes also bring strong emotional reactions such as fear and anxiety. Reportedly, mental health impacts were linked to acute and extreme weather exposures and chronic and cumulative exposure to multiple weather variables, adding to the vicarious and anticipated experiences of climatic stressors. 

Now bringing the debate back to the question, "How does Climate Change impact Indigenous health?" One can easily see the irreplaceable link between the existence and dependence of the indigenous population and the changing climate. Historically, the path of the traditional community is rooted in ecology; thus, water, land, and forests are essential elements for survival. Any significant changes will likely affect health conditions leading to chronic heart disease, digestive problems, fever, or cancer, among other listed health problems. Arguably, we, as a people, know what a healthy way of life is and what one should incorporate around themselves in order to live a long life. Likewise, the lives of indigenous people are inseparable from their ecological surroundings. Factually, yes, deforestation leads to land degradation and weather changes, unlike agricultural patterns, and verifiably increases health risks.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) quotes, "Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress."

 If we see problems across the globe, we can find resources, such as Indigenous peoples, tend to exist in areas more vulnerable to climate change. In areas of the Amazon Rainforest, indigenous peoples make their traditional homes despite the increased intensity of drought and higher temperatures.

Simultaneously, traditional farming practises across Asia and South America are at greater risk of failure due to increased temperatures. Indigenous peoples of the arctic are recognised as the faces of climate change. The Alaskan Native village of Kivalina has been enduring melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and intensifying storms for more than a decade, making their traditional fishing and hunting increasingly dangerous and difficult. For some groups, sea ice melt has caused built structures to collapse or fall into the sea. The environment has become so dire that they are seeking relocation. Reportedly, the women are severely impacted by the changing climate conditions.

As the United Nations reports, “Forced evictions and the dispossession of land have particularly severe impacts on indigenous women, who, as a result, often have an increased workload as they must walk long distances to find alternative sources of water or fuelwood. Additionally, they are driven out of income-earning productive activities and into a situation of economic dependence on men.”  

Likewise, Ford noted that “Indigenous-focused content has been largely overlooked in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and policy discussions surrounding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).” 

Further, the cited vulnerability occurs when the indigenous community faces rapid changes in habitation due to the disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality faced by many groups. Eventually, exposure to infectious diseases, exacerbated water and food insecurity, natural disasters, and population displacement will become key risks among tribal groups. 

A report by the United Nations department of economic and social affairs pointed out that “Indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.”

Health problems, when severe, cause death, and the balance sheets are imbalanced. Further, ecological equilibrium is maintained through proper development, preservation, and conservation. Any significant changes disturb the whole balance.

 Likely, the indigenous health priorities and their methods to save the environment via traditional knowledge can't be forecast. In a larger picture, one can see the links between the two spheres of economic development. 

Hence, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognises the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, which are driven by their political, economic, and social structures. We see more specifically than their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories, and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories, and resources.