Monday, 20 January 2014

Rural community adaptations to long-term water insecurity

With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly prevalent, frequent droughts and long-term water shortages are becoming a reality for rural communities. Whilst the farming and business implications of this have been extensively studied, little attention has been paid to the effects on the health of the community, and the way rural communities adapt to these changes.

Professor Malcolm Sim and Dr Martha Sinclair of the DEPM have analysed the way rural Victorian communities adapt to the long term effects of water shortages, and explored residents views on the perceived health and wellbeing impacts of water insecurity. The three towns studied had all suffered significant issues with water quantity and/or water quality (taste, odour, hardness) during the drought.

The study found that most residents relied on tank water for drinking, and had an aversion to reticulated water supplies, which were often regarded as undrinkable due to poor aesthetic quality. This was also coupled with an ethos of self reliance, and some distrust of outside agencies fixing the problems for the community.

In the short-term, concerns were expressed about an increase in the numbers of sporting injuries due to hardened sporting fields and increasing levels of tooth decay as a result of residents drinking un-fluoridated tank water. Residents were also concerned that the long term water shortages could lead to reduced community gatherings such as sporting events, in turn reducing community cohesion in the long term.

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