Monday, January 11, 2010

Protect the Aged: This Summer stop deaths from heat stress

Today the Australian Medical Association (Victorian branch) made a powerful plea for compassion, justice and common sense. This statement was made in light of extreme heat conditions recently – which have seen appalling rates of death amongst the aged and the infirm.

To illustrate the point, the AMA (Vic) has argued that:

"During the heatwave in January 2009, an additional 374 people died than would usually be expected. Many of these deaths were older Victorians, and many were due to heat-related conditions."

In response, the AMA has demanded: “[subsidisation of] the cost of cooling aids such as air conditioners for Victorians aged over 75.”

Specifically, the call was for rebates of $1000; and installation of air conditioning units in public housing estates; at a cost of AUS $37 million for the Victorian state government.

This issue is of special concern to Left Focus: as we were trying to promote this issue as far back as early 2009. It is edifying and a relief that now – finally – there is the prospect of action.

For previous discussion of these issues at Left Focus see:

There are other related issues, though, which are not discussed in the AMA media release.

Firstly: air-conditioning needs to be made compulsory for all aged care facilities – including nursing homes
and hostels.

Secondly: the target age of 75 and over might need a rethink. Surely elderly citizens as young as 70 – and sometimes younger – are also vulnerable.

Thirdly: even though it is a great start, a $1000 rebate might not be enough of a subsidy for pensioners living in poverty – many of whom cannot afford essentials such as heating during Winter, other utilities costs, rental expenses, transport, and a balanced diet. Installation costs alone can be in the vicinity of $1000 – without even taking into consideration the costs of heating units. Action is needed now on ALL these fronts…

Furthermore: If we accept the logic of the AMA’s arguments in relation to heat stress and the vulnerability of aged pensioners, then surely we must follow the same example with regards to the Winter months. Surely we must make sure the elderly have access to affordable and effective heating then also. This might entail subsidies for heating units – and further subsidies in the form of a more generous utilities allowance.

And finally: similar action to that discussed here needs to be taken not only in Australia – but over the entire globe. The problem needs to be addressed nation-wide – wherever the aged, the infirm and the vulnerable are at risk.

In Victoria for 2009 the road toll at the end of the year stood at 295 lives lost.

Action on that front in the form of drink driving blitzes, public education programs and the like are of critical importance – and thus receive significant levels of funding from governments.

The vulnerability of the aged in the face of heat stress and extreme Winter weather, however, is just as much of a critical issue of human interest.

In matters of life and death such as these no excuses should be accepted: we must demand action now.

Please demonstrate your concern about these issues and write to the Premier of Victoria, John Brumby demanding action on this issue:

The Premier can be contacted by email from the URL below:

Also consider writing to other state and federal government leaders about these issues.

And if you are from another country from Australia, consider following these issues through locally – depending on the need for action wherever it is you live.

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  1. I am in full support of providing comfortable safe environments for our elderly and vulnerable, and I would also like to see it done in a way that does not impact their hip pocket or the environment in an ongoing way.... So what about stronger solar incentives for pensioners?

  2. That's also a great idea - and I'm working on another contribution on those kind of issues - in particular a critique of the Emissions Trading System proposed by Labor here in Australia - and other initiatives that might help in that regard. Good to see we got a response quickly on this post - showing that people care even though these issues re: the Aged are not as popular or 'high profile' as other issues which concern social commentators, activists etc...

  3. At the end of last year there was a discussion in the Moonee Valley area about this issue. The local Leader paper had carried an interview with a Horn of Africa migrant about the conditions in the highrise flats in Racecourse Road. On hot days hundreds of people sleep in Debney Park to escape the heat.He made a request for air conditioners. The following week the paper received a spate of racist letters saying that migrants should be thankful for what they get. As bad as the letters were thae paper said it had toned them down.

    So it appears when we dicuss this issue we might have to confront the racists in our community who think that migrants are no tentitled to decent conditions.

    I also think that in the future all the highrise flats will have to be refurbised. Thet were built cheaply and in such a way that did not take into account weather conditions. Air conditioners will supply an answer until this is done.

  4. Speaking of refurbishment: it might in many cases be cheaper/easier to just put in insulation, sun shades on windows etc. Since I had cieling insulation in my little rented weatherboard cottage the temperature tracks 10° behind the temperature outside, while outside reached 43° today it hasn't gotten over 33° inside. That's without sun shades etc. That's just an example, but 33° is pretty bearable. Before insulation it would have gotten to nearly 40° by 1 or 2PM.

  5. Ben - I take your point - and the government's subsidy for insulation is a step forward here... But when I think of the conditions faced by the most vulnerable - and I include here those in nursing homes - then these people - many who suffer dreadfully - deserve the best we can provide... And for me that must mean air conditioning in nursing homes and hostels... And for real comfort to be made affordable for those on the Aged Pension...

  6. What about the Queensland elderly ? My Mother [who is 78 ]lives in Brisbane, where the temperature often soars between 36 and 40 degrees, in a housing department flat that does not even have a ceiling fan.She suffers terribly because of the heat.Surely, if the Victorian Government can put air conditioners in place for their elderly, then I think the Queensland Government-all sitting around in their lovely cool offices and driving around in their lovely airconditioned government department vehicles[which WE the Tax payer] provides- needs to wake up, and install them for ours,BEFORE THERE ARE ANY MORE HEAT STROKE DEATHS HERE!!

  7. Anon - I agree completely - Hoping maybe there are people with influence who are reading this! Perhaps you should write directly to the Queensland govt? Or maybe write to the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association - and see if they are lobbying the govt there? Thanks for the comment!



  8. Is no-one aware of a rather more fundamental issue - that much of the need for heating and cooling stems from the bad design of the dwellings themselves?

    To quote Wrigley (undated) :
    “This craft-based [housing] industry continues to hide its head in the sand; ignores research on how to give better value for money to house buyers; continues to believe it knows best what the customer wants; has failed to demonstrate how to produce sustainable houses which will benefit the environment and is very glib at stretching the truth about its 'Green' buildings.

    Why is it that many new houses are badly designed and oriented, having frigid and unusable rooms in winter and unbearably hot rooms in summer, when the science of how to avoid these problems has been known for many decades?
    Why is it that many new houses have roofs which are so broken up with hips and valleys that they can't even be retrofitted with photovoltaic panels of any useful size?
    Why is it that solar water heaters are not even included on new roofs? (Australia led the way with solar water heater research and development in the 1950s, yet today only about 5% of Australian houses take advantage of this very efficient sustainable device). To give due credit there was ONE solar water heater which recently appeared on a new house on the new housing development at Elmslea, near Bungendore - let us hope it is the first of many.
    The housing industry has left a potentially devastating legacy to the Australian community of such poor house design that we are now witnessing a rush to install air conditioners (which will almost inevitably cause many electricity blackouts in summer when the electricity system becomes overloaded and the hot air output of the air conditioners will elevate urban ambient temperatures even higher.)
    It is almost certain that when fossil fuelled house heating (including electric heating), becomes expensive a high percentage of our population will freeze in winter and the old and the infirm will be the first group to suffer - possibly with an increase in reported deaths and hypothermia admissions to hospitals. The indications are also clear that the opposite will undoubtedly occur in summer during a run of hot days.
    Such design inadequacies in the common knowledge of climate change borders on collective and culpable incompetence in the housing industry. The magnitude of its consequences on our discomforts and on the environment would, in any other industry, call for a product recall or a public enquiry. Why are such design inadequacies approved by our planning authorities when our governments claim they are committed to world class sustainable development?
    …Emphasis, particularly in the glossy architectural magazines, aided by the real estate industry, has always been placed on the glamorous side of housing at the expense of the good, practical and comfortable which are not so sexy. This is one of the root problems that face society today and climate change is bringing it out into the open.
    The common cry is that 'all this solar technology' costs money! Of course it does, but so do ostentatious porticos and balustrades, excessively big houses, spa baths, multiple bathrooms glitzy kitchens and full area heating systems.
    Another common question is "How long does it take to recoup the cost?" Why don't they ask how long it takes a swimming pool, or a new car to pay for itself?”

    Far too little attention is paid to ensuring that the built environment (and the goods and services that we consume) are designed to be of minimum environmental impact, let alone maximum social benefit. Notwithstanding the powerful lobby groups and vested interests that will be upset, that is where the attention is needed.

  9. World's cheapest hostels are also some of the beautiful places of the world.

    Rio Pousadas

  10. Climate change is affecting the temperature, this is the people should facing too much heat, cold, Unstable environment.


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