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How extreme heat puts people with disabilities at risk

A new report by Human Rights Watch highlights how extreme heat impacts people with disabilities and causes mental, physical, and emotional distress

Extreme heat puts people with disabilities more if they are left to cope on their own, new report states. (Pexels)
Extreme heat puts people with disabilities more if they are left to cope on their own, new report states. (Pexels)

A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has found that people with disabilities face the risk of physical, social, and mental health distress because of extreme heat, specifically if they are "left to cope with dangerous temperatures on their own," according to Reuters.

The report stated that some people with disabilities are more likely to develop health issues that can impact how their body reacts to heat. Staying at home during these times is not an option as it can lead to social isolation.

Also read: How Climate Change turned the Uttar Pradesh heatwave deadly

Jonas Bull, assistant disability rights researcher at HRW, told Reuters that one of the primary issues further added to this problem is inaccessible urban spaces. The report highlighted that the lack of representation in heatwave emergency plans could lead needs of people with disabilities being invisibilised.

For instance, in Spain, which experienced record-breaking heatwaves last summer, the national plan to address the consequences of climate change includes ways to protect "vulnerable" populations. However, it did not include any specific measures for people with disabilities, the report stated.

Although the Human Rights Watch report focused mainly on the European nations, it highlights of people with disabilities could be facing similar issues. India has been one of the nations experiencing life-threatening heat this summer. On 17 June, 18 districts of the Indian state of Bihar were facing a "severe heat wave." According to the IMD figures, the temperature was 6-9 degrees above normal, as reported by Outlook. This month, nearly 100 people have died in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar due to a severe heatwave.

In November last year, a report by World Bank warned that India could experience sweltering heatwaves that could test the limits of human survival. In this context, it's important to identify and include people who are more vulnerable to the impact of the action plans. Action plans and solutions should be more inclusive by recognising their needs and how to meet them.

For instance, people with disabilities, specifically with mobility issues, have limited capacity to react to emergencies during an extreme weather event triggered by climate change. In a 2022 article published by Health Policy Watch, a 75-year-old man Vishnu Kumar from Hyderabad, who suffered from a paralytic stroke three years ago and has been confined to a bed and wheelchair, spoke about how excessive heat affects him. He said severe heat zaps and frequent power cuts reduce his energy and increase his discomfort.

Also read: How April heatwaves are linked to climate change

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