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Climate change not so cool

With temperatures high around the country, Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter has launched the Ministry of Health’s new Heat Health Plan Guidelines.

“Climate change is a big threat to our society, and we need to plan for anticipated weather like hotter days now,” says Ms Genter.

“Although it is great to enjoy the outdoors, getting too hot is a serious risk that will happen more in our future. Our health will be impacted by climate change, and we need to ensure we are all ready. 

The number of days where temperature exceeds 25 degrees Celsius is expected to increase between 40 and 100 percent by 2040 and between 40 and 300 percent by 2090.

“Extreme heat can cause problems for everyone, but it can be especially concerning for babies and infants, pregnant women, older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and those with disabilities,” Ms Genter said.

“Every year we have older New Zealanders who die due to heat issues and this is projected to increase. Research shows that hospital admissions and deaths increase during periods of hot weather.

“I want us to all be aware of the impact the heat can have on vulnerable people, so be careful when taking Grandma to the beach.

“Climate change doesn’t just affect our health, it also has an impact on people’s productivity at work, the primary industries and our economy. This is an issue we all need to be thinking about.

“Having Heat Health Plan Guidelines will raise awareness and drive local action to counter the negative impact extreme temperatures can have on our health.

“These guidelines are aimed at helping health and community service providers, including local government, prepare their own plans dedicated to their community and their own predicted weather variations,” Ms Genter said.

Plans should be integrated with existing emergency response plans and include the four Rs of emergency management: reduction, readiness, response and recovery.

Other aspects to consider in any Heat Health plan include:

  • ensuring appropriate responses are ready for vulnerable populations in heatwaves
  • keeping buildings cool and shaded
  • taking long-term actions to reduce heat impacts such as urban planning, developing green spaces and reducing carbon emissions
  • setting appropriate staffing levels that take account of staff and client safety in hot weather
  • considering staff wellbeing (as well as clients) during an extreme heat event and providing training for staff on explaining risks of high heat to clients
  • incorporating heat events into communication strategies and business continuity service plans.