23 September 2009

Dust Storm Envelops Sydney: What are the health impacts?

Sydneysiders awoke to a red glow this morning and opened their curtains to find that the city had been shrouded in a dust storm, blown in by strong winds last night. Our clothesline was covered in red muddy lumps that were similar in shape to the clothes I’d hung out yesterday.

My mother-in-law called up to instruct us not to take the baby outside. “You don’t want her breathing that stuff!” I’m no respiratory expert, but I know that one-off exposure to dust of this nature was unlikely to cause enduring respiratory problems. A precautionary response doesn’t hurt however, and state health agencies have recommended that people stay inside. This did make me wonder, what are the health impacts of dust storms?

Dust storms may contain plant pollens, fungal spores, dried animal faeces, minerals, chemicals from fires and industry, bacteria and pesticide residues. These all have the potential to impact on human health. This is of particular concern in countries where there is increasing desertification and weak government regulation. The potential health impacts of dust itself are important - usually by exacerbating existing asthma. Dust storms have also led to algal blooms in some parts of the world, which in turn have a number of environmental and health impacts.

The psychological impacts of dust storms are worth mentioning as well. The Welsh HIA Support Unit conducted an HIA of a coal mine in Wales and found that it wasn’t particulates alone that could impact on people’s health (they've now done several HIAs on coal mines). The constant noise and dust undermined their mental health as well. Dust storms are far less constant so the extent won’t be so great, but already I’ve noticed a flurry of exclamations about the “end of the world” amongst my friends on facebook this morning. I think that if the storm goes on for several days some of these exclamations may become semi-serious.

Dust storms remind us that what happens in the outback has a very real effect on cities, as much as we might like to pretend it doesn’t. I lived in Bourke as a kid and dust storms were not an uncommon event. Maybe they’ll become semi-regular events in the Sydney of the future as well. I’ll have to start bringing the washing in.

This post first appeared on Croakey

14 September 2009

New UNSW HIA eNews available

The latest issue of the UNSW Health Impact Assessment eNews is available for download from:


In this issue:

Health Impact Assessment: From the Global to the Local

Community-Led Health Impact Assessment: The Goodooga Equity Focused HIA

Equity Focused HIA

HIA in North Queensland

Revamped HIA Connect Website

Western Australian HIA Network

Second Asia Pacific HIA Conference in Thailand

Second New Zealand HIA Practitioner Workshop

HIA Practice Standards Issued by North American Group

Forthcoming WHO Guide on Health in Development Lending

UNSW HIA Publications

Learning by Doing HIA Training Packages

What’s New?

3 September 2009

HIA Impact on Policy: Sign up for the Preconference workshop - S(t)imulating health advocacy in urban renewal planning

From Marleen Bekker, Erasmus MC

At the international HIA conference ‘On the move’ October 14, 2009 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, a preconference workshop will move participants to reflect on, and build capacity in, agendasetting and policy impact for health.
As a practitioner applying Health Impact Assessment in policy or planning processes, or as a scientist studying design or outcomes of HIA, you may be wondering about how HIA actually helps to put public health issues on the policy or planning agenda. When is scientific, objective evidence the active substance for policy impact, and when are additional or alternative strategies needed? How do you actually build support, how do you establish the ‘right’ timing, and how do you gain access to the relevant networks of influential actors and decision-making procedures?

In a game simulation of a planning process concerning an urban renewal project, the participants explore those questions implicitly while playing different roles of parties and actors involved in urban renewal. Participants are specifically assigned to develop a strategy to set the political agenda for their different role priorities during the game. The health stakeholders could set the agenda for health either by developing an HIA or by other means. Participants are asked to play a different role than their own real-life one, which enables an individual frame reflection during the game. Afterwards, de-briefing and evaluating the game simulation enables cross-frame reflections, strengthening or renewing the knowledge and competence of participants in health advocacy.

The game simulations create a safe yet realistic setting for playing and practicing skills without repercussions. Efforts to set the agenda for health are put into the perspective of the full dynamics of such planning processes. In the games, the participants are confronted with different frames, interests and positions during and after the game. From the game simulations we may learn how a particular, realistic setting of urban planning induces effective and ineffective strategies from health proponents and non-health actors and stakeholders to put forward their interests in the planning process.Policy entrepreneurship, building effective coalitions and mobilizing power resources are emergent strategies that may be adopted alongside the HIA to move from evidence to action. This game simulation is unfreezing fixed frames, and moreover it is great fun!!!

For more information and for registration details, see www.hia09.nl.

Marleen Bekker