We would have gone fishing more in the past. Nunavik focus group participant, unpublished data, The implications of these changes on food security and potential implications on nutritional health among these populations which receive significant energy and nutrient contributions to their total diet from these country foods is only now being investigated.
In fact, a number of focused research projects have been initiated with the communities involved in this present study and others in these regions. In general, the impacts identified by local residents in this project were supported primarily by scientific evidence and the published literature, although, in some cases, the effects represented new findings. In response to growing concern among Inuit communities about environmental changes being observed, the national Inuit organization in Canada, Inuit Tapiriit Kantami, initiated a project in cooperation with regional Inuit organizations and Canadian research institutions to document changes and impacts experienced in communities and to discuss how communities currently are adapting or may adapt in the future.
In the first series of workshops in January and February , a research team involving regionally based Inuit representatives visited three of the six communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, and Inuvik, Northwest Territories; Figure 1.
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At the same time, communities began to identify existing strategies or develop potential adaptation strategies for local-level response Table 3 ; Nickels et al. Adapted from Nickels et al. The communities of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region ISR have been observing changes associated with warming in their region for a longer period than those living in the eastern Arctic communities.
Changes in the ISR appear more pronounced. For example, increased mean summer and winter temperatures, temperature extremes, an increase in uncharacteristic weather patterns and storm events, a decrease in precipitation, and changes in the characteristics of the ice season similar to those reported in the eastern communities Furgal et al. These changes affect the health of individuals and communities, and in some cases communities are already beginning to respond Table 3. For example, in association with summer warming, residents are reporting an increase in the number and species of biting flies and insects, including bees.
Changing Cold Environments: A Canadian Perspective
Many residents are concerned because of the potential for spread of disease or potential allergic reactions to stings, as many of these insects have never been seen before in this region. Consequently, a public education process was recommended by workshop participants to inform people about what action could be taken to minimize the risk of being bitten and to alleviate public fear. Currently, little information on these topics exists or is available in the communities Table 3.
Locally appropriate strategies were suggested to address climate-related impacts on animal distribution and decreased human access to important country food sources e. Furgal et al. These changes were resulting in increased costs and time associated with traveling longer distances to procure these foods and a decrease in consumption of these items for some members of the community. Because of these problems, it was recommended that a community hunting and sharing program be formalized to ensure access to these food stuffs for all Table 3.
Currently, more reactive than proactive strategies are in place to adapt to climate-related health impacts in these communities. Changes in hunting behavior, increased investments in equipment or infrastructure e. As in the eastern Arctic communities, these initial workshops have led to the establishment of a variety of projects that address specific issues.
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Some of these projects will potentially lead to proactive primary adaptations to reduce exposure Casimiro et al. A summary of examples of adaptive strategies from the work presented in Table 3 is indicative of the inherently adaptive nature of Inuit society and northern Aboriginal cultures in general Adger et al. However, the ability to respond varies among communities and regions and is influenced by some common critical factors.
The World Health Organization framework for health adaptation Grambsch and Menne identifies seven elements that influence vulnerability and adaptation to climate-related health impacts, many of which are applicable to the northern communities discussed here. The ability to invest more in the required tools and equipment for hunting and traveling, or the access to other forms of transportation e.
Similarly, the generation and sharing of local or traditional knowledge of regional environments and the relationship between the environment and humans further support this ability to adapt while on the land and safely navigate increasingly dangerous and uncharacteristic conditions. The ability to shift species, alter hunting behaviors, and read environmental cues e. The importance of this knowledge is gaining recognition among scientific and policy communities e.
The support provided through institutional or formal arrangements for aspects of traditional lifestyles and health may become increasingly important with climate change in Arctic regions. As many communities begin to represent more pluralistic societies in terms of livelihoods and lifestyles, establishing country food collection, storage and distribution programs, and economic support for the pursuit of traditional activities become important in reducing the vulnerabilities to and enhancing adaptive capabilities for climate-related changes.
Also important is the formalization of traditional knowledge documentation and sharing mechanisms through the establishment of such things as community-based ice monitoring programs Lafortune et al. With warming temperatures and the potential for the introduction of new water and foodborne agents and permafrost melting, which threatens built structures in coastal communities, some basic public health infrastructures e. The security of basic public health infrastructure in small remote communities that are already challenged regarding provision of some basic services is a significant determinant of adaptive ability in these locations.
Finally, existing health status issues in Inuit populations e. The combination of environmental change, basic health needs, limited economic choices, and shifts in northern society and lifestyle appears to increase vulnerability and limit the ability of some Arctic communities to respond. Indigenous populations are often more vulnerable to climatic changes because of their close relationship with the environment, their reliance on the land and sea for subsistence purposes, the fact that they are more likely to inhabit areas of more severe impact such as coastal regions, often have lower socioeconomic status, are more socially marginalized, and have less access to quality health care services Kovats et al.
In the public health sector, this combination of the current exposure—response relationship, the extent of exposure, and the possible preventative measures in place creates a vulnerability baseline against which the effectiveness of future policies can be measured via changes in the burden of disease Ebi et al. The dialogue approach we present here shows the value of establishing this baseline and engaging Arctic Aboriginal communities on these issues by a process very similar to that outlined by Ebi et al.
The findings presented in these two small studies are supported by others e. A workshop with Northern health professionals, community leaders, and Aboriginal representatives from across the North reported similar results Health Canada Critical issues identified included challenges related to northern home design and a lack of ventilation causing heat stress among elderly on increasingly warm days; impacts to food security because of changes in sea-ice access routes to hunting areas or ice-road stability and effects on reliable transport of market food stuffs; combined impacts on mental health due to reduced ability of individuals to practice aspects of traditional lifestyles; and impacts to infrastructure and threats of community disruption or relocation Health Canada Similarly, both projects were conducted with Inuit communities, and hence, differences between Arctic cultural groups were not identified.
Section 1: Climate change in Canada
Observed climate changes, impacts, and response abilities of Yukon First Nations living in the interior of the western Arctic likely are very different from those of the Inuit communities presented here. It is therefore critical to conduct such assessments locally. Strengthening access and availability to country foods throughout the year for communities or increasing public health education associated with environmental causes of disease are such examples. Establishing community freezer and distribution plans will help in addressing current nutritional and other food issues as well as increase the capability of an individual to access safe and healthy foods in the face of environmental changes.
Increased knowledge and awareness of environmental causes of disease will address perceived risks and provide valuable information to empower individuals to continue to make healthy decisions. Both the Nunavik—Nunatsiavut Labrador project and the workshops in the ISR are starting points in the collection of information to support community, regional, national, and international processes on climate change. Many new projects have since begun on components of the climate—health relationship in northern communities, and many of these are taking a similarly participatory approach e.
Arctic indigenous peoples have also participated in the international assessment of climate change impacts through their involvement in the ACIA with academic and government researchers ACIA This level of engagement and contribution is a significant advance in environmental health impact and vulnerability research.
Despite these advances, research on climate and health in northern Aboriginal populations is sparse Berner and Furgal , and the identification of the impacts on local populations and community adaptations is still in its infancy and requires continued effort with attention to thresholds and limits to adaptation Berkes and Jolly They include the following:. Community-based assessments and systematic research must be conducted on the issues of climate change impacts in the North and elsewhere in Canada. Local, regional, and national levels are interconnected in supporting and facilitating action on climate change; thus data at multiple levels and research that link scales to understand these relationships are needed.
Fine-scale meteorologic data is required in many northern regions and must be collected in a way that allows the data to be linked to existing and future health data sets. Models of change and impact must be linked with currently used global change scenarios. Innovative approaches to health and climate assessment are needed and should consider the role of sociocultural diversity present among Arctic communities.
This requires both qualitative and quantitative data and the collection of long-term data sets on standard health outcomes at comparable temporal and spatial levels. These data must include local observations and knowledge collected using reliable and standardized methods. Assessments that take a multi-disciplinary approach bringing together health scientists, climatologists, biologists, ecologists, social and behavioral scientists, and policy researchers and include demographic, socioeconomic, and health and environmental data are required to develop an adequate understanding of impacts, vulnerabilities, and capabilities in Arctic communities.
Historical data climate, health, social, economic from appropriate locations with climate systems similar to those projected for Canadian northern regions must be used for integrated and geographic analyses of the spread of disease relative to climate variables.
Climate Change, Health, and Vulnerability in Canadian Northern Aboriginal Communities
These analyses would make efficient use of existing information and increase our understanding of these issues and their interconnected nature. Developing and improving regional scenarios is needed for areas projected to experience significant impacts, such as the western Arctic. Socioeconomic scenarios to model and project impacts and changes within northern indigenous populations are needed.
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Such scenarios are currently sparse, poorly developed, and inadequate. Work is needed at both the conceptual and analytical levels to define and increase our understanding of vulnerability and community health, how best to measure these concepts, and the use of these concepts in making decisions about the health of the community and in risk management. This work should include local knowledge and informal institutions e.
To ensure success and sustainability of adaptation strategies, development of local and regional monitoring, analytical and decision making capabilities are needed to support cooperative and empowering approaches to research and action. In the Canadian North the debate is no longer solely about identifying and predicting effects of climatic change but rather about what can and should be done to adapt, as some communities are already reporting impacts.
This research focuses on improving the understanding of the magnitude and timing of the impacts of climate change, how individuals and communities cope with current and predicted changes, and what public institutions should do to actively support adaptation. There is currently sparse information on the effectiveness of any current strategies for dealing with climate-related or environmental risks to health in the locations described here and in other areas of the country.
This lack of information is an important gap in our understanding and ability to assess who, where, and when Canadians may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The cooperative planning, development, and conduct of projects in Inuit communities bringing together scientists, northern environment and health professionals, and community residents and experts, as presented here, has been essential to the success of the projects described in this article.
The community-based, dialogue-focused approach has proven valuable in engaging communities and establishing a local baseline for understanding the changes, impacts, vulnerabilities, and the ability to respond at the local scale. Such an approach may very well prove useful in establishing this baseline in other regions.
We acknowledge the participation and contribution made by northern residents and organizations to this work to date. Thanks are also extended to three anonymous reviewers for their comments. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Environ Health Perspect v. Environ Health Perspect. Published online Jul Christopher Furgal 1 and Jacinthe Seguin 2. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.
Address correspondence to C. Telephone: , ext. Fax: E-mail: ac. Received Jun 17; Accepted Jul Copyright notice. Publication of EHP lies in the public domain and is therefore without copyright. All text from EHP may be reprinted freely. Use of materials published in EHP should be acknowledged for example,? Reproduced with permission from Environmental Health Perspectives? Articles from EHP, especially the News section, may contain photographs or illustrations copyrighted by other commercial organizations or individuals that may not be used without obtaining prior approval from the holder of the copyright.
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