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Hot days hit severely vulnerable urban populations

The days with high temperatures, an increasingly frequent occurrence according to official data, adversely affect the well-being and health of vulnerable urban populations, such as minorities, low-income families, the elderly and children, reveal new national and regional reports.

The reports, compiled and published under the National Year of Climate Change and Health, established by the American Public Health Association (APHA), indicate that from New York to Los Angeles through Denver, residents in low-income neighborhoods resources are severely affected by high temperatures, lacking the infrastructure that would enable them to cope with this situation.

“Our people live in old houses with no air conditioning, and in places almost without parks or trees, many do not even have a car to leave the city or go to a public swimming pool. said Efe Maricruz Herrera, a community organizer working with poor families in Montbello, a neighborhood in northeastern Denver.

“And the situation is exacerbated by gentrification, because the houses now occupy green spaces and leave less space for children and adults to enjoy the outdoors. This happens in all our neighborhoods, even in schools,” he said.

Herrera referred to a report released Thursday by The Colorado Trust charity, which indicates that residents in areas of Denver with a high percentage of Hispanics or African Americans are more than 80 percent likely to be affected by high temperatures.

That report was based on the analysis of the so-called Heat Vulnerability Map in Denver, developed earlier this year by the local Department of Environmental Health.

This map indicates that the twelve neighborhoods with the majority of Hispanics are the most affected by the heat, a worrying situation because this year Denver already had 74 days with more than 90º F (32ºC), including 24 consecutive days with those temperatures, both historical records .

“We run a high risk for our health because in our area there are almost no public parks and the buildings are so old, from the 1950s, they do not have air conditioning.” We did not feel the heat, we suffered, “said Karime Quintana. the Westwood United organization in West Denver.

Westwood residents are working on a project to create “green infrastructure” in that area, but the problem is neither limited to Denver nor new.

As early as 2001, California implemented the Environmental Health Tracking Program to monitor deaths and illnesses caused by heat. And in 2011 that state adopted the Heat Vulnerability Index that has since been used in other states, in several cities, and even in other countries, including Chile, China and India.

In Los Angeles, for example, minorities are 50 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods “highly vulnerable to climate change.”

In Fresno, that figure reaches 100%, comparable to what happens in neighborhoods in the north of Denver.

And according to a study released late last July by the New York City Department of Health, twelve neighborhoods in the Bronx, six in Brooklyn and the Harlem Central area are listed as “hot spots on hot days.”

In a recent statement, APHA said that “vulnerable populations carry the heaviest burdens of wounds, diseases and deaths related to climate change.” And in Denver, the City Department of Environmental Health, based on a document last August from the United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), called for remembrance of people living alone, the elderly, the sick and people with cognitive disabilities are “who face the greatest risk in cases of extreme heat”.

The different cities and states are looking for various solutions to this problem. California and Oregon already have statewide programs.

In other cases, such as in Denver, measures are being considered to require large buildings to have gardens or solar panels on their roofs, or to take other measures to reduce the heat they emit.

Be that as it may, the task will not be easy. Denver authorities anticipate that by 2050 it will be common to have 30 days a year with temperatures in excess of 100 ° F (37 ° C), literally “endangering people in vulnerable neighborhoods.”

That is why, according to UNISDR, “we need an evolution of our behavior in favor of a community policy and collective participation to increase our ability to live on a rapidly changing planet.”


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