THE ‘triple challenge’ of the impact of climate change, Brexit, and the coronavirus pandemic could change the face of rural communities across Wales, it has been warned.

A new report by Public Health Wales (PHW) published today, Tuesday, has outlined a series of opportunities and challenges posed by the combined impact of the three issues.

According to the report, many of the potential impacts of the ‘triple challenge’ are the same in rural areas as they are in urban parts of Wales – but others are more specific to less developed areas; such as the age, availability, and affordability of housing, transport infrastructure, and access to the internet.

The report says these factors, along with the fact that rural areas generally have older populations and high levels of reliance on agriculture, must be taken into consideration when developing policies aimed at improving health and wellbeing.

PHW suggests a specific policy framework for rural Wales could be developed, with a focus on addressing the ‘triple challenge’.

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Liz Green, consultant in public health, policy and international health at PHW said the rise of home-working during the coronavirus pandemic had made rural areas and communities more attractive to live and work in.

“This could have both positive and negative impacts,” she said. “For example, it could enable some rural communities and their economies to thrive and facilitate an increase in sustainable services and facilities.

“But it could also lead to housing price increases that disadvantage those who currently live in, or were brought up, in an area or shortages of affordable housing for the local populations.

“We also identified that digital infrastructure and accessibility are very important for rural communities, but there needs to be a focus on enabling digital and social media use by increasing digital literacy, particularly in the elderly population.”

In total, 4.1 per cent of employment in Wales is in the agricultural sector, and up to 28 per cent of people living in rural communities in Wales are employed in the agriculture industry. And it is estimated that EU subsidies make up 80 per cent of farm income in Wales.

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In 2019 25.4 per cent of people living in rural counties were aged 65 or older – up from 19.6 per cent in 2000. In comparison, 18.9 per cent of those living in urban counties were aged 65 or older.

In its conclusion, the report says the combined impact of Brexit, Covid-19 and climate change “represent the biggest combined triple challenge to health and well-being that Wales has faced in recent times”.

Decisions will be difficult to make in coming years as the economy, environment, health of the population, and society mobilise to recover and renew from the pandemic, Brexit and climate change weather events,” it says. “Building resilience in rural communities will be critical to the development and success of Wales.”

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