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European heatwaves are most dangerous for ethnic minorities and those on margins of society

Image credit: Euractiv

As we transition into the European summer, we are likely to expect numerous heatwaves across the region in the coming months.

Research has found that around 19 per cent of EU households get uncomfortably warm during the summer and in some countries, the figure is close to 50 per cent.

In 2019, summer heatwaves claimed 892 lives in the UK, with many deaths happening in houses and care homes.

With long and more intense heatwaves occurring throughout Europe as a result of climate change, extreme temperatures are likely to become more familiar.

Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic, the risk to life is particularly high when coupled with a warmer climate.

As many people are having to face an unusually long period of time indoors throughout the summer of 2020, knowing what determines the likelihood of overheating could save lives.

Overheating was most commonly reported in districts across Europe - including Gdansk in Poland, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Budapest in Hungary - which are dominated by large apartment blocks and with higher rates of poverty.

Image credit: Greyscape

Overall, the design of vulnerable homes was crucial for determining the risk of overheating. Government-led solutions could include providing funding for shutters and awnings that block out the heat and sunlight - these were rarely found in low-income rental housing, especially in Gdansk and Budapest.

While some apartment-dwellers have attempted to combat heatwaves by filling walls with insulation to prevent heat seeping from the outer walls to the inside of the home, installing airconditioning units, and putting up blinds and shutters, others have turned to spend more time outside in the cool air and in green spaces.

For ethnic minorities, however, high-quality green space is harder to access, including those on low incomes, women, older people and people with disabilities.

Worryingly, COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate these inequalities and further polarise those who can handle the heatwaves and come out of them with their lives still in tact.

Although lockdown measures in both the UK and across Europe are gradually easing as summer approaches, many people are still confined and isolated to their homes for long periods. This issue especially applies to individuals considered high-risk to the coronavirus.

It is necessary that we, as a society, adapt to climate change in order to protect the poorest and most vulnerable groups from the threats of warmer temperatures and fatal overheating.


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