Poorer feel the ef­fects of heat­waves

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

BE­FORE this blus­tery Septem­ber blows away the last mem­o­ries of the ex­traor­di­nar­ily hot sum­mer we have had, let’s talk about heat and in­equal­ity.

We all know that poorer peo­ple suf­fer dur­ing cold win­ters, some­times even (shame­fully) hav­ing to choose be­tween heat­ing and eat­ing. But what about heat­waves, when day af­ter day the swel­ter­ing sun bears down on us all? Does this af­fect cer­tain sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion more than oth­ers?

It is ob­vi­ous to con­clude that whilst wealth­ier peo­ple dash from air-conned of­fice to sub­ur­ban shade and can sur­vive ex­treme tem­per­a­tures (even if the Tube is a bit of night­mare), a city’s home­less have no refuge from the blan­ket of heat.

How­ever, even if not home­less, poorer peo­ple strug­gle: lit­tle or no house­hold in­su­la­tion, poor ven­ti­la­tion and un­af­ford­able elec­tric­ity bills can ex­ac­er­bate the ef­fects of cli­mate ex­tremes.

Whilst ex­treme heat is linked to deaths from heat ex­haus­tion, stroke and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures also make air pol­lu­tion more deadly, as ni­trous ox­ides gen­er­ate ozone when heated by the sun, in­flam­ing peo­ple’s air­ways and killing the more vul­ner­a­ble amongst us.

Typ­i­cally those liv­ing in ar­eas of high air pol­lu­tion are peo­ple with less money and fewer life op­tions. Think of the North Cir­cu­lar – few peo­ple would find liv­ing next to that busy road de­sir­able, given the choice.

Fur­ther­more, World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­search shows a trend away from ru­ral liv­ing and an­tic­i­pates that 60% of peo­ple will live in cities by 2030. The more densely pop­u­lated cities be­come, the hot­ter they’ll get. As ur­ban ar­eas de­velop, build­ings, roads, and other in­fra­struc­ture re­place open land and veg­e­ta­tion. Sur­faces that were once per­me­able and moist, like grass­lands, be­come im­per­me­able and dry, cov­ered with con­crete, tar­mac and dark roofs. Such ar­eas soak up heat and re­tain it for longer than ru­ral sur­round­ings, form­ing an is­land of sig­nif­i­cantly higher tem­per­a­tures.

Trees and plants help cool the en­vi­ron­ment, mak­ing veg­e­ta­tion a sim­ple, ef­fec­tive way to re­duce ur­ban heat is­lands, pro­vid­ing shade, evap­o­ra­tion and tran­spi­ra­tion. How­ever, there is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween an area’s green­ness and its wealth. Typ­i­cally, poorer ar­eas are built as high rise, high den­sity ac­com­mo­da­tion, with­out green spa­ces.

As the im­pacts of cli­mate change are ever more ap­par­ent, even in tem­per­ate Western Europe, where 35,000 died dur­ing the heat­wave of Au­gust 2003, we should be plan­ning for the fu­ture and try­ing to tackle this area of lit­tle known but grow­ing so­cial in­equal­ity.

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