Strong Links to Land Deliver Better Health Outcomes

Article excerpt

Around the time the Prime Minister's 'Closing the Gap' report was released in February, the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) published a comprehensive report outlining four principles for Aboriginal land management. Researchers say these principles will help improve health and wellbeing for indigenous communities.

The 'Closing the Gap' report raised particular concerns about achieving one of the six key targets--closing the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians--which is currently 11.5 years for men and 9.7 years for women. The report noted that while the life expectancy of indigenous people increased over 1991-2008, the 'gap' may not close for some years, because the life expectancy of non-indigenous people has been rising at a faster rate. (1)

For Aboriginal communities in inland Australia at least, connections with land can help them achieve a better state of health, says Dr Jocelyn Davies of CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences--lead author of the Desert Knowledge CRC report. (2) Dr Davies and her colleagues formulated four 'Livelihoods inLand[TM]' principles after analysing a large body of published scientific work. (3)

'Aboriginal people commonly say that their health and wellbeing are positively impacted by a strong relationship with their traditional lands and culture, and there is increasing scientific evidence that this is the case,' says Dr Davies.

'People's sense of control or capacity to cope, and the serious health impacts of sustained stress, are powerful factors explaining this relationship. The stress load on Aboriginal people is reduced when they are empowered through caring for their own lands.'

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A team headed by Mr David Campbell, senior economist at the Centre for Remote Health, has identified potential positive health impacts of Aboriginal involvement in land management. Mr Campbell's team estimated that a health centre in a northern Australian community of 1200 people saves about $270 000 annually (or a net present value of $4 million) in primary treatment costs for hypertension, renal disease and diabetes. (4)

Aboriginal land management can involve cultural or customary activities, natural resource management, conservation work that supports environmental health in the local settlement, and land-based enterprises such as bush foods and tourism.

'All these activities help to improve physical fitness and create a healthier lifestyle, and they can also endow people with a greater sense of control, which is a powerful way to reduce and manage stress and its health impacts; notes Dr Davies. …