The people of Australia should plans for heatwaves in the same way that they do for bushfires, according to health and disaster experts, so that they can protect themselves from potential health concerns.
Following the formal declaration of an El Nio by the Bureau of Meteorology on Tuesday, heatwaves have already begun to sweep through southern Australia this spring, and more are anticipated to sweep through the region during the upcoming summer.
This week, the Australian Red Cross issued a warning that 58 percent of Australians anticipate being hit by heatwaves in the next 12 months. This is a significant increase from five years ago, when only 24 percent anticipated being affected by heatwaves. However, new research carried out by an impartial third party on behalf of the organization reveals that only 10% of Australians are actively taking steps to prepare for the event.
On Wednesday, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) issued a statement saying that this week’s heatwaves should serve as an urgent reminder for the government to promptly produce, execute, and fund its national health and climate policy.
A general practitioner and executive director with Doctors for the Environment Australia named Dr. Kate Wylie stated that more should be done on the individual level as well as by local and state governments to better prepare for the potential negative effects that heatwaves could have on people’s health.
Wylie argued that there should be a better acknowledgement of the danger that heatwaves pose to people’s health. Heatwaves not only pose the danger of heatstroke and exhaustion, but they can also make existing conditions worse, such as diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and asthma. People in Australia who are homeless, pregnant women, children under the age of five, and people over the age of 65 are at an increased risk.
“It would be really sensible if we could start to approach heatwaves in the same way that we approach fires, in that we could recognize it as an impending problem and act to protect ourselves from it,”
People need to first understand the various aspects that contribute to the danger that they are facing, according to Professor Ollie Jay, who directs the heat and health incubator at the University of Sydney.
Jay reminded everyone that the temperature that is reported by the Bureau of Meteorology and other meteorological organizations is the temperature that is measured in the shade. The temperature can be 8–10 degrees Celsius higher in direct sunlight during the spring, and it can be up to 17 degrees Celsius higher during the height of summer.
Along with the personal elements of what a person is wearing and what activities they are engaging in, it is important to take into account the wind and humidity as two additional environmental factors that should be taken into account.
The actions that people take should be tailored to environmental circumstances as well as their individual vulnerabilities, such as their age and any preexisting medical conditions they may have.
According to Jay, the University of Sydney has collaborated with the New South Wales Department of Health to develop an app called “Heat Watch.” The software will take into account both personal and environmental characteristics in order to offer specific guidance.
In the month of October, the pilot app will be made accessible for download by anyone who is interested in doing so.
Jay recommended the use of air conditioning for people who are able to remain indoors, but he admitted that the expense was out of reach for many people with the current crisis in the cost of living. Jay recommended making air circulation a top priority by either installing air circulation in the form of a pedestal fan or ceiling fan, or by opening windows, however this should only be done if the temperature outside is lower than the temperature inside.
According to Jay, the combination of social inequality and medical weakness created a “perfect storm” of vulnerability to the heat.
Wylie believes that the government ought to establish more safe havens for those who are vulnerable.
People should also try to spend time in air-conditioned public buildings, including as museums and art galleries, libraries, and shopping centers, according to the recommendations made by state health agencies. However, Wylie stated that it was vital for governments to provide more cold refuges for people to go, particularly because many public spaces are closed at night when temperatures might remain elevated due to the urban heat island effect. Wylie said this was especially significant because of the fact that many public spaces are closed at night.
Wylie recommended that Australians who have friends or family members who are particularly susceptible and who live in a home that does not have efficient heat cooling measures make an offer to have them stay with them.
Wylie advised Australians to be aware of the signs that they were beginning to “feel a bit off” and recognize that the heat was having an effect on them. “Take some steps to calm yourself down, sit in the shade, go back inside, find a building with an air conditioner, and drink a glass of water,” the voice in my head said.
Maintain a low barrier of entry when it comes to seeking assistance. Heatstroke is a medical emergency as well as requires immediate attention by doctor as it can cause death in a matter of minutes,” Wylie advised.
According to Wylie, blackouts also regularly occurred during heatwaves. As a result, a plan should contain techniques for keeping cool using water, such as stepping into the bath, putting your feet in a bucket of water, or pressing a piece of material that was wet on the back of your head. In addition, a plan should include methods for preventing heatstroke.
One example of councils working with state and federal governments, industry, and community sectors to develop a coordinated plan for managing heat risk at the level of urban design is the Western Sydney Regional Organization of Councils (WSROC), which represents local government areas that have some of the most significant risk profiles in Australia. WSROC is just one example of councils working together to manage heat risk at the level of urban design.
Through initiatives like our Cool Suburbs tool, WSROC has been striving to guarantee that heat is managed through urban design and development for some time now. Through our Heat Smart Western Sydney program, we have also been working to ensure that communities are prepared for the heat, as he explained.