Extreme Heat And Poor Living Conditions Threaten Northern Australia: ‘Bodies Start To Cook’

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In the Northern Territory, a lack of insulation in houses often causes extreme temperatures that people can’t afford to cool down.

In the upcoming days, as a dangerous heatwave hits northern Australia, the lives of people in remote communities will be at risk. This is because homes in these areas are not well insulated, meaning that temperatures can reach dangerously high levels.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a heatwave warning for regions in the Northern Territory, including the Daly, Arnhem, Carpentaria, Gregory, Barkly, Lasseter and Tanami. These areas can expect temperatures to exceed 40C.

The temperature in remote areas, including Lajamanu, Daguragu, and Mataranka, is projected to be 45 degrees Celsius on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Simon Quilty, a 20-year veteran who has worked across various health sectors and communities in the Northern Territory, said thousands of homes could become unsafe.

“The houses here are terrible- the design, construction, and [lack of] insulation are appalling,” Quilty said.

In the 1980s, many people in remote Indigenous communities were forced to switch to a user-pays power card system. This means that during heatwaves, cooling their homes becomes unaffordable for many people. Quilty said.

Last year, his research, co-authored with Aboriginal elder Norman Frank Jupurrurla, found that 90% of homes lose power at least once yearly in remote communities.

Data from 3,300 households across 28 communities showed that 74% of homes had power disconnected more than ten times during the 2018-19 financial year.

“The people who can least afford it are the ones who have to worry about losing power and being disconnected from their homes,” Quilty said.

He noted that other individuals in Australia are safeguarded by the Australian Energy Regulator guidelines, which mandate that no one using life-support equipment can be disconnected. However, he added that this is only sometimes adhered to in NT communities.

To address the issue of extreme temperatures and lack of power, there must be more significant investment in energy infrastructure in northern Australia. This includes improving insulation and ensuring that people living in remote communities have affordable access to cooling options such as air conditioners and fans. 

Moreover, more significant efforts must be made to ensure that those who rely on life-support equipment are not disconnected from their homes during heat waves.

Ultimately, if no action is taken to address these issues, lives will be at risk in remote communities across northern Australia. We must work together to ensure everyone has the fundamental right to access safe and affordable housing during extreme temperatures.​

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