Melbourne councillor says heatwaves should be treated as emergencies

October 17, 2014
People need heat refuges as an alternative to sweltering in their homes.

Heatwaves are still not considered an emergency by state governments, but they should be.

There was a 24% increase in the number of deaths during the four day heatwave in Victoria in January. An additional 167 people died in the week of the heatwave when the temperature was above 41 degrees for four consecutive days in Melbourne and more than 45 degrees in other parts of the state.

In 2009, there were an additional 374 deaths during the heatwave in the week before the Black Saturday bushfires.

During the heatwave in Melbourne this year, hundreds of people shifted into air-conditioned motels for relief. But homeless people were moved on after taking refuge in cool shopping centres.

A motion was passed at the Moreland council meeting in February that the council investigate establishing 24-hour heat refuges for future heatwaves. The motion was moved by Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton.

The October 10 Moreland council meeting voted to advocate to the state government that emergency planning measures be activated for heatwaves when the temperature is predicted to reach the heat health threshold for more than three days in a row. The heat health threshold is when the average of the daily maximum and overnight minimum temperature exceeds the trigger of 30 degrees.

According to the council officers’ report, there is not a demand from the services for heat refuges.

However, Bolton disputes that there is not a need for heat refuges. “People are not used to governments treating heatwaves as emergencies so that the services might not have picked up a need or demand for heat refuges. The fact that so many people shifted into motels during the heatwave this year indicates a need.

“But most people can’t afford to move into a motel to escape the heat. Many people spent hours in pubs and shopping centres to escape the heat, but that is only possible so long as you have money to buy things. And many shopping centres kick people out.

“That’s why people need an alternative to sweltering in their homes."

If the state government activates emergency planning measures for heatwaves, it would fund local councils to establish heat refuges.

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