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Heat stress experiences in highly vulnerable populations

A collaborate study is examining the silent danger of heatwaves on vulnerable populations in Perth and Delhi.

Overview

Heatwaves, known as the ‘silent killer’ of climate change, are one of the deadliest natural hazards. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable who bear the brunt of their devastating impacts.

A collaborative research project between Curtin University and the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi is examining the impact of heatwaves on exposed and socially vulnerable populations in Perth and Delhi. The study aims to understand how high-risk individuals and groups experience heat stress, struggle with energy-related barriers when trying to stay cool, and live with the losses they have to endure. 

Supported by the Australia-India 'Unnati' Research Collaboration Grants, the findings will help improve heat management and action plans. To do so, we need to make visible the specific challenges of populations who experience several layers of vulnerability and disadvantage and enable targeted preventative measures instead of one-size-fits-all approaches.

Outcomes

Researchers in Perth and Delhi have conducted interviews and focus group discussions to understand how extreme heat affects populations most at risk. In Perth, professionals from healthcare, environmental regulation, emergency services, the disability community, social and homelessness support services, and a climate justice union were interviewed. Similarly, researchers in Delhi interviewed Indian government counterparts, university representatives, non-government organisations, and think tank members. Insights from these sessions revealed significant impacts, some available coping mechanisms, and unmet needs of people disenfranchised in their society trying to protect themselves from heat stress.

Meanwhile, focus group discussions in both cities highlighted how societal marginalisation is experienced on a daily basis. In Perth, sessions with rough sleepers highlighted the lived reality of inadequate social and housing policies in a high-income country, with nowhere to go to stay cool. In Delhi, the research team listened to individuals seeking refuge at night shelters, and women in a vocational training institute. Key vulnerabilities emerged, across different at-risk groups, revealing both high exposure (e.g. outdoor workers) and structural disadvantage (e.g. gender discrimination, entrenched racism).

The project team at the stakeholder workshop in Delhi in 2023 (Krishna Karthikeyan (Curtin: Research Assistant), Prof. Petra Tschakert (Lead Investigator), Associate Prof. Upasna Sharma, Dr. Anshu Ogra (Lead co-investigator), Abhilasha Singh, Preksha Sharma, and Adhiraj Bhowmik (IITD: Research assistants).  The project team at the stakeholder workshop in Delhi in 2023: Krishna Karthikeyan (Curtin: Research Assistant), Prof. Petra Tschakert (Lead Investigator), Associate Prof. Upasna Sharma, Dr. Anshu Ogra (Lead co-investigators), Abhilasha Singh, Preksha Sharma, and Adhiraj Bhowmik (IITD: Research assistants). 

Collaborative activities have also included a two-day research workshop in Delhi and a hybrid stakeholder workshop with 27 participants. The research workshop focused on sharing findings, addressing intersecting inequalities and mismatches in heat governance, and evaluating thematic coding. The stakeholder workshop, held at IIT Delhi, involved presenting preliminary findings and discussing barriers, proposed solutions, and organisational perspectives related to heat protection.

The research has enhanced collaboration between Australia and India, enabling researchers to design and employ nuanced coding structures and an in-depth literature review that forms the basis for new contributions to scholarship and policy making. Overall, the project has enabled a more profound comprehension of energy insecurity and obstacles across and within different cultures and social hierarchies, highlighting the existing deficiencies and injustices in local and national adaptation planning.

Banner image: Researchers interviewing women at a night shelter in Delhi and a senior citizen centre in Perth as part of the focus group discussions (with Human Ethics approval HRE2023-0407 from Curtin University and 2021/P0123 from IITD).

Funding partners

This project is funded by the Australia India ‘Unnati’ Research Collaboration Grants. The Unnati Grants are supported by the Australian Government Department of Education.