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CALD communities at greater risk from heatwaves

6 February 20140 comments

New arrivals to Australia from CALD backgrounds are at greater risk from climate change-linked extreme weather conditions, according to new research.

The study, by researchers from The University of Adelaide’s National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, found that some newly arrived people from CALD backgrounds were at greater risk particularly from extreme heat.

It said the risk could be compounded by factors such as socioeconomic disadvantage; cultural differences; health issues; poor housing conditions and limited access to air conditioning; linguistic and social isolation; and language barriers and low literacy rates limiting access to health warnings.

Titled Extreme heat and climate change: Adaptation in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, the study was based on 36 interviews or focus groups with stakeholders, a range of multicultural communities, service providers, non-government organisations, the health sector and community groups in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

“People in CALD communities who are reportedly at risk during extreme heat tend to be older people, new arrivals and people in new and emerging communities,” the study said.

“Risk in the vulnerable can be compounded by language barriers, cultural factors and lack of acclimatisation to local environmental conditions.

“Unfamiliarity with the ‘different’ type of dry heat was a factor in Adelaide and Melbourne, whereas in Sydney gambling can be a problem for people seeking a cooler environment in the many sporting and service clubs,” the study said.

“Being unacclimatised to local environmental conditions and lacking awareness of adaptive behaviours can lead to increased vulnerability, particularly for the old and the very young.

“Members of new and emerging communities have often arrived from refugee camps and can have underlying health issues, poor educational attainment and poor proficiency in English.

“Socioeconomic disadvantage and poor quality rental housing can result in limited access to air conditioning, and an inability to afford the associated high running costs. Wearing garments more suited to cooler weather and not being used to drinking water can add to vulnerability,” the study said.

It said some new arrivals were reluctant to spend time in publicly cooled spaces such as shopping centres; and beaches and swimming pools could pose safety risks for those unable to swim. Also, new migrants may be unaware of and unprepared for the extreme conditions of a typical Australian summer and the uniquely dry searing heat that can cause discomfort, anguish, sunburn and the potential for severe health issues.

The report concluded that providing information to new migrants and refugees about climate change risks in Australia and ways to sustain health during extreme heat will help vulnerable sectors of communities. “Promoting social connectedness will also facilitate a more inclusive approach to climate change adaptation. An outcome from this translational research has been an increase in awareness amongst policymakers of the need for broader communication of health messages,” the report said.

It identified the need for a suite of culturally and socially inclusive communication tools to cater for the growing number of culturally diverse arrivals to Australia.