Indigenous Environmental Health: Report of the Fifth National Conference 2004
2003 Western Australian Aboriginal Community Environmental Health Needs Survey
Owen Ashby, Manager, Aboriginal Environmental Health, Department of Health, Western Australia
In 1997 the Environmental Health Needs Coordinating Committee commissioned an Environmental Health Needs Survey of all Western Australian Aboriginal communities. The Environmental Health Needs Coordinating Committee is the peak coordinating body in Aboriginal environmental health in Western Australia. The committee, chaired by Michael Jackson, Department of Health Western Australia, comprises Executive Directors of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, ATSIC, the Department of Housing and Works, Western Australian Local Government Association and the Australian Government Department Health and Ageing.
The Environmental Health Needs Survey identified and compiled data on key environmental health indicators and achieved Australia-wide recognition as the national benchmark in capturing information on environmental health conditions in Aboriginal communities.
The survey collected environmental health data from 259 discrete Aboriginal communities (213 occupied) about water, electricity, housing, sewerage (sewage disposal and ablution/laundry facilities), waste disposal, dust and dog control.
The report, Environmental Health Needs of Aboriginal Communities in Western Australia, was published from the survey data in 1998. The report was a single document containing data for use by federal, state and local government agencies. The single source document ensured existing resources were used to the maximum benefit and were targeted more effectively to help those communities with highest priority needs.
The report was circulated widely to Aboriginal and government decision-making bodies at federal, state and regional levels to assist in their planning processes. For the first time, decision makers from the various government agencies were using the same data source for planning and priority-setting.
The 2003 Environmental Health Needs SurveyThe 2003 Environmental Health Needs Survey built upon the 1997 survey, with the objective of systematically gathering reliable data from all Aboriginal communities in the state describing:
- the core indicators of environmental health (water, power, solid waste disposal, sanitation, drainage, housing, dust, and dogs)
- other human and physical service facilities in communities to enable profiles of each community to be developed.
- measure progress in addressing priority environmental health needs
- identify service-delivery gaps
- target existing resources to priority communities
- lobby government for new resources
- improve cross-government program and service-delivery coordination.
- A community details form (yellow) of 140 questions
- An individual dwelling form (blue) of 55 questions.
- 9 environmental health officers
- 24 field support officers
- 34 environmental health workers.
There has been a substantial improvement, with positive outcomes in the communities serviced by these arrangements.
Before the 2003 survey was started it was estimated there could be up to 400 communities throughout the state. Data was in fact collected from 275 communities (eight did not wish to participate) and assessed by the information technology branch of the Department of Indigenous Affairs. The report of the 2003 survey will again be used by government agencies to aid decision making at the federal, state and regional levels for future planning in community needs. Communities are provided with a copy of their community details and a copy of the report.
Indications are that there has been a substantial improvement in the conditions at some communities. The services or essential facilities in which the majority of communities want to see improvements are water, power, sewerage systems, housing, solid waste disposal, and dust control.
There has been an improvement in many communities as they intend entering their communities in the Clean and Healthy Community Awards sponsored by the Department of Housing and Works and Fire and Emergency Services Association.
Communities are taking pride in their own housing lots with fencing, lawns and gardens. Further improvements will be made with kerbing and sealing of the internal road surfaces.
The community of Karalundi is an excellent example of how conditions can be improved with adequate funding provided for roads, kerbing and adequate water for landscaping and ground beautification. Installation of wastewater ponds has made significant improvements in wastewater disposal and creates possibilities for reuse for tree lots, greening areas and dust control.
SummaryAim of the survey: To collect environmental health information from all discrete communities.
What was collected? The core indicators of environmental health (water, power, solid waste disposal, sanitation, drainage, housing, dust, and dog health) were surveyed and recorded. Other information that was collected was about human and physical service facilities to enable development of profiles of each community.
Who was involved? Environmental health officers, Aboriginal environmental health workers and Aboriginal field support officers for each community and district collected survey information. A total of 283 communities were identified; eight did not want to participate.
What was the outcome? Results indicate there has been an overall improvement in environmental health conditions in communities throughout the State. However, more funds are needed to continue ongoing improvements. Funding for environmental health worker positions on communities remains a high priority. A substantial database is now available of 275 communities in Western Australia.
Lessons learned: To make further such surveys more successful, it will be important to:
- start early
- define communities
- focus on timing
- improve across-government coordination.
- revamp the format
- ensure better coordination of housing/environmental health aspect
- seek better funding opportunities
- possibly conduct another survey.
For further information
While the finalised report had not been released at the time of this presentation, copies will be available from:
Department of Indigenous Affairs,
Phone: 08 9235 8084
Owen Ashby Manager,
Aboriginal Environmental Health,
Department of Health Western Australia
PO Box 8172, Perth Business Centre, Western Australia 6849
Phone: 08 9388 4960
Fax: 08 9388 4907