Research undertaken by the University of Sydney with Mallee Family Care shines new light on the hard realities of surviving an Australian summer without air conditioning.
The new report, Extreme heat driven by the climate emergency: impacts on the health and wellbeing of public housing tenants in Mildura, Victoria, explains how the health and wellbeing of people who live in public housing without air conditioning – as well as children’s opportunity to access education – is being significantly impacted by increasing temperatures.
Despite this, Victoria’s policy about providing air conditioning in public housing has not changed since 1997.
Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services will only install air conditioning in a property if the person who lives there can provide medical evidence that they require climate control to manage a health condition. However, on the ground experience shows that the policy is inconsistently applied, and difficult to access. This means that many people miss out.
People who are older, have mental illness or other health related issues, people with disability, children and those who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds experience particular vulnerability to heat related illnesses – such as extreme dehydration, loss of appetite, fatigue and heat stroke.
In the last twenty years, major heatwaves have caused more deaths than bushfires, cyclones, earthquakes, floods and severe storms combined.
All Victorians can feel that it is getting hotter, but people who live in areas prone to extreme temperatures, such as Mildura, are especially suffering.
Residents in Mildura have described being unable to breathe, being unable to cook, rushing children and elderly family members to hospital for emergency care and resorting to sleeping outside – all because of a lack of air conditioning in their homes.
Executive Officer of the Victorian Public Tenants Association, Mark Feenane, said:
“Periods of extreme heat see more ambulance call outs, more hospital admissions, and more suicides. Extreme heat is life threatening.
“The fact that our Government is legally required to provide heating in all public housing properties, but refuses to provide air conditioning for some tenants who live in extremely hot climates, is nonsense, especially with summer temperatures continuing to increase.”
The VPTA is calling for the Medical Cooling Policy to be reviewed, so that climate control options provided to people who live in public housing are appropriate to the region where they live.