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Adelaide's heat-vulnerable suburbs revealed

Monday, 21 January 2013
Author: Liam Mannix, Indaily

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NEW research reveals the areas in Adelaide where residents are most vulnerable to extreme heat - and the list includes Elizabeth and Davoren Park in the north, Newton and Magill in the east and Plympton and Seacliff in the south.

The research shows residents in those regions end up in hospital at greater rates than the rest of the population during days of extreme heat and heatwaves.

The research also finds that once the temperature rises above 42 degrees in Adelaide, mortality rates jump significantly.

The paper's author, the University of Monash's Dr Margaret Loughnan, is calling for the State Government and emergency services to devote particular attention to those highly vulnerable suburbs during heatwaves to minimise the harm to residents.

"When you get hot weather, you start to see a spike [in morbidity)," Loughnan told Indaily.

"So you know that there's something that needs to be done or addressed in those parts of the city to protect that part of the community.

"Heatwaves in Australia harm more people than any other natural disaster."

Loughnan's paper, Vulnerability Analysis of Urban Populations During Extreme Heat Events, measured a large selection of different pieces of data to draw up heat vulnerability maps for each capital city.

The maps highlight in red the postcodes in which the population is most affected by heat.

Key factors measured included the average age and general health level of a postcode.

Areas where there are large numbers of older people are vulnerable, and that vulnerability further increases if many of those old people are living alone.

Older people are more vulnerable because their bodies don't stand up well to the rigours of heat stress. They are also less mobile, so are often less able to replenish their fluids.

The study also pulled together data for socio-economic status, because people from poorer areas typically have lower access to air conditioning. These people also typically suffer from pre-existing illnesses, particularly cardio-vascular issues, in greater numbers than average.

Loughnan said the study identified age and ethnicity as two of the most important factors effecting heat vulnerability.

"Extreme heat events pose a risk to the health of all individuals, especially the elderly, young children and the chronically ill.

"The research identified communities with diverse cultural backgrounds to also be at a higher risk due to language barriers and difficulties in communicating critical emergency information."

The data included an analysis of how Adelaide's suburbs were constructed and how dense they were - dense suburbs can be as much as 8 degrees hotter than low-density areas.

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