The forecast for the long weekend is for high temperatures right throughout Victoria, with temperatures forecast over 35 degrees in the inland and northern parts of the state. While some of us might enjoy the weekend by the beach or at the movies, not everyone can keep cool as easily.
Heatwaves are known to increase the incidence of illness and death, particularly among people living on low incomes and other disadvantaged groups. People vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat include the following:
- older people (65 years and older)
- children under five years old
- pregnant or nursing mothers
- people with a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or mental illness
- people with a condition that impairs the body’s abilities to regulate its own temperature like Multiple Sclerosis
- those living alone with little social contact
- people taking certain medications, such as those for depression or insomnia
- people with a disability.
A Monash University study found that people living in Melbourne’s western, inner-northern and south-eastern suburbs are most at risk from heatwaves. These areas include those with high proportions of elderly residents, non-English-speaking homes and hot urban areas that lack vegetation.
The quality of people’s housing plays a key role in whether or not that are able to stay cool during periods of extreme heat. People on low incomes who live in sub-standard private rental properties, public or community housing, and vulnerable people who live in boarding or rooming houses, hostels, caravan parks, residential parks or camping grounds, can lack the money, capacity or choice to keep their homes cool in periods of hot weather.
Housing which is poorly ventilated, unshaded and does not have cooling increases exposure to high temperatures. Living on the top floor of multi-story dwellings or sleeping under the roof are also associated with higher risk of death.
More than 160,000 people live in social housing in Victoria, including 44 high-rise public housing towers across Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Public housing provides over 65,000 of these households with long-term, rental accommodation, including some of the most disadvantaged Victorians, including people with a disability or mental illness and people with a history of homelessness. Community housing provide short-term crisis or transitional housing for people who are experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless, as well as longer-term rental housing for around 100,000 Victorians. Many social housing properties do not have adequate cooling and insulation, meaning people are more at risk from heatwave.
Heatwaves drive up energy costs. As power demand increases electricity prices go up, and people’s bills spike due to greater cooling needs. The biggest financial burden is felt by people living in poor-quality housing with low thermal efficiency, who have very limited capacity to reduce their exposure to extreme heat. Concern about high energy bills can contribute to unhealthy self-rationing of energy, particularly among older people. A recent RMIT report showed at-risk groups are restricting or not using air-conditioning during heatwaves mainly due to costs, and households are experiencing financial stress as a result of using air-conditioning for health and wellbeing.
Let’s ensure everyone has the opportunity to be cool and stay safe this long weekend. If anyone you know is likely to be at risk during a heatwave, help them get the advice and support they need. Vulnerable people living on their own should be visited daily to check whether they are OK and should be checked for heat stress. In an emergency,
- Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance
- Your doctor or pharmacist
- Nurse-on-Call, telephone 1300 606 024
Tips for staying safe during extreme heat:
- Drink water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Take a bottle with you always.
- Hot cars kill. Never leave kids, older people or pets in cars. The temperature inside a parked car can double within minutes.
- Keep cool. Seek out air-conditioned buildings, draw your blinds, use a fan, take cool showers and dress in light and loose clothing made from natural fabrics.
- Plan ahead. Schedule activities in the coolest part of the day and avoid exercising in the heat. If you must go out, wear a hat and sunscreen and take a bottle of water with you.
- Check in on others. Look after those most at risk in the heat – your neighbour living alone, the elderly, the young, people with a medical condition and don’t forget your pets.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ revised Heat health plan for Victoria provides recommended actions for health and community service providers to take before, during and after extreme heat.
This includes a heat health alert system to notify organisations and groups about extreme heat or heatwaves that are likely to negatively affect human health.
The department monitors the Bureau of Meteorology’s 7-day forecast maximum and minimum temperatures. When the heat health temperature threshold is reached in a specific weather forecast district, a heat health alert is issued.
Heat health alerts are issued by the Chief Health Officer. You can subscribe to heat health alerts at any time.
- A suite of Survive the Heat resources has been developed to encourage and educate individuals and the community to be aware of the impact of extreme heat on human health. The information is available in a range of formats with a number of resources translated into community languages.
- How to cope and stay safe in extreme heat – Better Health Channel website.
- Kids in Cars developed by the Department of Education and Training
- Your Guide to Power Outages developed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
- The City of Melbourne’s plan for responding to extreme heat periods that specifically addresses the needs of people who are homeless – Heatwaves and homelessness.