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Dryland Salinity and Ecosystem Distress Syndrome: Human Health Implications

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Abstract

Clearing of native vegetation for agriculture has left 1.047 million hectares of southwest Western Australia affected by dryland salinity, and this area may expand up to a further 1.7–3.4 million hectares if trends continue. Ecosystems in saline-affected regions display many of the classic characteristics of Ecosystem Distress Syndrome, one outcome of which has not yet been investigated in relation to dryland salinity: adverse human health implications. This article seeks to review existing information and identify potential adverse human health effects. Three key potential impacts on human health resulting from dryland salinity are identified: wind-borne dust and respiratory health; altered ecology of the mosquito-borne disease Ross River virus; and mental health consequences of salinity-induced environmental degradation. Given the predicted increase in extent and severity of dryland salinity over coming decades, adverse outcomes of salinity are likely to be further exacerbated, including those related to human health. There is a clear need to investigate the issues discussed in this review and also to identify other potential adverse health effects of dryland salinity. Investigations must be multidisciplinary to sufficiently examine the broad scope of these issues. The relationship between human health and salinity may also be relevant beyond Australia in other countries where secondary soil salinization is occurring.

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Acknowledgments

This work was partly supported by Land and Water Australia, through a Science and Innovation Award from the Australian Government Bureau of Rural Sciences, and by the Cooperative Research Centre for the Plant Based Management of Dryland Salinity. Dr. Mike Lindsay, Medical Entomologist, Department of Health Western Australia assisted with discussions regarding salinity and Ross River virus.

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Jardine, A., Speldewinde, P., Carver, S. et al. Dryland Salinity and Ecosystem Distress Syndrome: Human Health Implications. EcoHealth 4, 10–17 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-006-0078-9

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