Australians are no strangers to sweltering summers. But what many don’t realise is that heatwaves cause more deaths than any other natural disaster, including bushfires and floods.
New research from La Trobe’s Dr Catherine Trundle examines how heat stress effects individual and social wellbeing in Australia.
“Periods of extreme heat are increasingly common in Australia, linked to the ongoing effects of climate change,” Dr Trundle explains.
“The 2009 heatwave in Victoria culminated in 375 deaths and the 2014 Victorian heatwave, 167 deaths. These statistics are probably an underestimation, due to extreme heat indirectly worsening underlying chronic illnesses, especially among the elderly.”
The economic impact of heat stress and heat related illness is also significant, representing an estimated $6.9 billion annual burden on the economy.
And, it is not borne equally across the population.
“A range of social factors shape and increase vulnerability to heat stress. These include living in rural and remote areas, poverty and chronic illness, homelessness, living alone, having a limited social network, living in high density housing, and working in heat exposed workplaces,” Dr Trundle says.
As part of her research, Dr Trundle is interviewing a range of experts whose work helps to address the risk of heat stress.
“I am talking to town planners, architects, rural development specialists, civil engineers, community service providers, public health officials, occupational hygienists, and environmental policy makers. In doing so, I aim to support a collaborative and ambitious approach to addressing the risk of heat stress.”
“My research aims to positively impact heat stress policy, and to support building new interdisciplinary, cross-sector collaborations to address the pressing problem of heat stress.”