Human Rights Watch calls for better resources to help at-risk groups after a deadly June heat wave in British Columbia.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized authorities in Canada for what it called “inadequate” support for the elderly and people with disabilities hard hit by a summer heat wave that hundreds dead in the western province of British Columbia (BC).
In a report The rights group, released Tuesday, called on BC’s federal and provincial governments to prepare vulnerable people and provide better resources for the next climate disaster.
HRW also urged Canadian authorities to stop subsidizing fossil fuels to help prevent “the most catastrophic climate outcomes”.
BC had no heat action plan when the province saw record temperatures in late June, the rights group said, and a “lack of access to refrigeration and targeted support for at-risk populations contributed to unnecessary suffering and potential deaths.”
the serious rise in temperature was linked to a “heat dome”, a weather system of heat-trapping high pressure. It caused 569 deaths, according to government figures, with temperatures reaching 49.6C (121.2F) – a national record.
The HRW report is based on remote interviews with 31 people who described experiencing challenges and adverse health effects as they struggled with the record high temperatures.
“People with disabilities and the elderly are at high risk of heat stress, but they had to handle the dangerous heat alone,” said Emina Cerimovic, senior researcher on disability rights at HRW.
“Canadian authorities need to listen to and provide much better support to people with disabilities and the elderly before disaster strikes again.”
The report noted that some local communities had set up cooling centers but said many people could not access them without adequate transportation.
HRW also criticized health services in the province, saying they didn’t activate their emergency systems until the heat started to subside.
“One person said her 88-year-old aunt who was using a wheelchair died on June 28 as a result of the heat dome and was unable to reach 911,” the report said.
The rights group said Canadian authorities have a duty to ensure equal rights for people with disabilities, and calls for “reducing emissions and helping people adapt to the current and projected impacts” of climate change. .
“Canada’s federal and provincial governments must take action to prevent foreseeable negative impacts on rights of climate change, including protecting those most at risk of adverse health impacts, such as the elderly and people with disabilities,” states the report.
British Columbia regularly experiences heat waves and forest fires, but scientists say climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense in both Canada and the United States, which also saw record temperatures on the West Coast this year.
The county told HRW it is “developing a strategy to respond to extreme heat and wildfires in 2022-2025,” the rights group said.
BC officials have warned residents to take precautions before periods of extreme heat, urging them to seek air-conditioned locations, stay hydrated and limit physical activity.
In late July, when Environment Canada issued another heat warning for the province, Health Minister Adrian Dix also said that “health authorities and BC Emergency Health Services are preparing to help those in need during the heat wave”.
“British Columbians should also make the necessary preparations ahead of time and take steps to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones,” Dix said in a statement. pronunciation in that time.
But HRW is calling for “urgent action” from Canadian authorities.
The report said social isolation and poverty increased risks for people during the heatwaves, with interviewees saying they had no support system or people monitoring them in case of an emergency.
“There were days when I don’t remember what I did, I just lay on the floor and couldn’t get up,” a 38-year-old woman with a disability who lives alone told HRW.