For Like minded people who like to see-
I heard one of the authors of the following ‘Abstract’ The Hidden Health Burden of Environmental Degradation: Disease Comorbidities and Dryland Salinity, on the radio the other day and I was rocked to my socks.
Last week we were asked to contemplate the ravages of the Black Dog and its pervasive and destructive effect on so many in our society.
You will understand why I was ‘rocked to my socks’ when you read the ‘Abstract’ to an essay I have been writing and contemplating for months; A ‘Conversation’ concerning the loss of seventeen million hectares of Australian farmland to salinity in just forty years: Does anyone care?
I will publish my complete ‘Conversation’, in several episodes, in the days to come.
The link between the two papers is coincidental and at the same time frightening. I did not know of the work being done by Speldewinde et al.
Is this part of the reason we seem to be fighting a losing battle against mental illness in many parts of rural Australia?
I leave it for you to decide. I would also ask that you wait until I have published the complete essay before you pass comment or judgement.
The Hidden Health Burden of Environmental Degradation: Disease Comorbidities and Dryland Salinity.
Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, The University of Western Australia, PO Box 5771, Albany, WA, 6332, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous studies have linked poor mental human health with environmental degradation, but none have assessed additional diseases that may co-exist with these mental disorders. In previous work, depression was found to be associated with a major form of environmental degradation; dryland salinity. However, little is known about diseases co-morbid with depression in this environmental setting. In rural Australia, dryland salinity is a major form of environmental degradation contributing widely to deterioration and non-viability of farmland. Using georeferenced health record data, Bayesian spatial methods were used to determine the relationship between dryland salinity and a range of human health outcomes. Initial modelling found an increased relative risk for asthma, suicide and ischaemic heart disease in relation to dryland salinity (adjusted for Indigenous and socio-economic status). However, in this follow-up study, a further evaluation of the role of co-morbidities in this population revealed that: (i) the presence of depression was consistently linked to residence in areas with high salinity and (ii) the association of asthma, suicide and heart disease with salinity was most likely attributable to the co-morbidity of the conditions with depression. Given the predicted increase in dryland salinity and the elevated relative risk of depression in impacted areas, the relative risk of the co-morbid conditions can be expected to increase in rural areas in the future, further adding to the burden of disease associated with environmental degradation.
On the 15th January 2001, Roy Green, Chair, National Resources Audit Advisory Council, presented to The Hon. Warren Truss MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Senator the Hon. Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment 2000 a report of the National Land and Water Resources Audit (Audit).
These are the predictions made in that audit:
Eight years later in 2008, Kevin Goss, CEO, Future Farm Industries CRC, presented a paper in New Zealand: Confronting Salinity: Five Lessons for Soil Science in Australia and New Zealand and repeated those predictions.
The loss of seventeen million hectares to salinity by 2050 is an area bigger than the South West Agricultural Region of Western Australia.
Seventeen million hectares is an area twice the size of all of Tasmania.
State-by-State the extent of salinity is forecast as follows:
State areas at high risk from shallow watertables or with a high salinity hazard.
State 1998/2000 2050
New South Wales 181 000 1 300 000
Victoria 670 000 3 110 000
Queensland not assessed 3 100 000 (1)
South Australia 390 000 600 000
Western Australia 4 363 000 8 800 000
Totals 5 650 000 17 000 000
Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment 2000.
Natural Heritage Trust.
(1) Queensland data should be taken with a pinch of salt (sorry) as all investigations with authorities in Queensland failed to reach a consensus except that the 3.1m ha was political. Only Queensland knows what that means. I think it had something to do with Beatie, was that his name? None of the other State figures have been challenged.
In 2000 the loss to salinity in Western Australia by 2050, was estimated by the Natural Heritage Trust at 8.8 million hectares or about 63% of the ~14 million hectares that we know as the South West Agricultural Region. The number of farmers this will affect and the potential impact on community mental health and other illness has not been calculated in this ‘Conversation’.
So the loss to salinity in Western Australia in what is now just thirty-nine years is 63% of the farming area of WA, which includes the area currently devoted to horticulture. Eleven years have elapsed since this assessment was made.
The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAP) was a joint project between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments adopted primarily to address dryland salinity.
The goal of the plan was to motivate and enable regional communities to prevent, stabilize and reverse trends in dryland salinity and to improve water quality.
The NAP was abandoned by the current Federal Government in 2008 and replace with a programme called, ‘Caring for our Country.’
The predictions of land loss to salinity were made, one assumes, with the full knowledge of what had been done in the past and what was being done at the time by both State and Federal Government agencies to combat salinity. Obviously, in their view, it wasn’t enough.
In 2001, ten years ago, Short and McConnell of Agriculture WA, in a paper ‘Extent and Impacts of Salinity’ calculated ‘the annual cost of salinity to the South West Land Division of WA to be between $661million and $1.4 billion. Potentially affecting 27 major rural towns, 30,000 km of roads and rail. The extinction of some 450 plant species and a reduction in fauna of some 30%’… and so it goes on…
In 1996, fifteen years ago, and three years before the The National Land and Water Resources Audit’s Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment, two scientists working for the Department of Agriculture in Bunbury, Don Bennett and Richard George, did their own assessment and discovered that within 150 km of Bunbury, 11% of the land, or 275 000 hectares was affected by salt and unproductive. Bennett and George presented their paper at the 4th National Conference and Workshop on the Productive Use of Saline Lands held in Albany.
Bennett and George presented research conducted in WA and evidence from commercial plantings in eleven countries overseas, which showed that River Red Gums (E camaldulensis), on saline land, would grow as fast or faster than what was becoming, in the high rainfall areas of southern Australia, the famous (now infamous) Blue Gum (E globulus), and produce timber just as good as that of the Blue Gum.
In WA some 200 000 hectares of Blue Gums, about half of the national plantings were established on good fertile farmland; because Blue Gums, as everyone knew at the time, will not grow on saline land.
The loss of seventeen million hectares of farmland will reduce the annual gross value Australia’s agricultural production by at least by at least 15% or $3.5 billion. The cost to the national road and rail network and to rural towns and infrastructure is not available. The annual loss of between $661million and $1.4 billion was just for WA and that estimate was made ten years ago.
Bennett and George showed that River Red Gums (E camaldulensis) will grow on saline land and produce commercial quality timber. They showed that this is being done in at least 12 other countries.
Australia imports up to $4 billion worth of forest products annually and it has previously been estimated that up to 10 per cent of these imports are from suspect sources.
Established stands of eucalypts planted at 1000 trees per hectare will sequester at least 10 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
One million hectares of River Red Gums planted on what is now useless and unproductive land would sequester 10 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
Can it be done? Of course it can. It took the Managed Investment Scheme, Blue Gum industry, just over a decade to plant over half a million hectares and they had to buy the land, clear it and so on… Saline land is just sitting there, doing nothing…
According to the Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment, in 2000, eleven years ago, there were 5.6 million hectares of land in Australia with a shallow water table and at risk of salinity.There is no doubt that research must continue for other ways perhaps with other crops to make the ever-increasing saline area in Australia productive.
I have received a couple of requests from people wanting to comment on this post and chapter 1 so I have changed my mind.
Feel free to comment and ask questions if you wish.
There are about 3 more chapters.