Protecting the vulnerable from deadly heatwaves is already possible

Last week I met with a group of former colleagues for dinner. We had to meet a week earlier. However, the power cuts and the excessive heatwaves halted our plans. While we were seated at the table, a friend of mine showed me a post of someone named Ralph. Personally, I do not know him. And I did not even know he existed. However, he was calling for my advice on the electricity power cuts and the costs incurred for businesses and the economy. Nevertheless, what looked a bit embarrassing was his belittling tone. I was tempted to leave a comment on his social media page. Obviously, I refrained.

Clearly, he was calling for some attention and confrontation. Surely, Ralph never read what I wrote in my weekly columns – or at least I hope he was not selective – and what I proposed over the past year, not just in terms of electricity and distribution network upgrades but also other topics related to climate change. Needless to say, the topic is complex and requires expertise beyond engineering, especially within the banking industry due to the greening of the financial system. The transitioning to democratise our financial system encompasses different professions.

However, Ralph’s parochial tone shows that the country must evolve beyond calling other people trolls and illiterate on his social media. Sincerely, it is not leftist to call people illiterate. Au contraire, the role of a lecturer is to educate people and politicians must avoid divisive narratives. Surely, one person does not signify the party’s policies, either, or at least I hope it is not the case. Frankly, it is pitiful to descend to this level. On one hand it ruins the collegiality and perhaps the good intentions of your colleagues with such a condescending narrative, while on the other hand it is surely not promoting a leftist or better a centre left ideology.

Ironically, a few days after calling for my opinion, I wrote an article on power cuts. Indeed, I modestly proposed solutions beyond the electricity distribution network upgrades. Also, I even accepted an invitation to appear on the Labour party’s TV station and seized the opportunity to propose additional solutions. Notwithstanding that I admitted that power cuts are an inconvenience to everyone, and that we require an urgent distribution network upgrade, however, the proposed Climate Change Authority (CCA) must go beyond merely the advisory role and assume an additional role of ensuring that, if any of its proposals are adopted, it would be tasked with overseeing the implementation aspect. For example, the CCA, which would be I believe an independent statutory body, must ensure that the pledged investments to reform the distribution network, are not only submitted, but the infrastructure is modernised within agreed upon timeframes with clear implementable Key Performance Indicators bestowed upon the management of Enemalta and any other interrelated ministries or authorities. Basically, what I am here proposing is that the CCA, considering that we have now actually started feeling the threats of climate change physical risks, ensures that any steps intended to partly counter the effects of climate change are effectively not only executed but up to scratch, as we have no more time to waste. There must be accountability as this concerns our survival.

Just as I criticised, constructively, the EU Commission President for her churlish behaviour during the State of the Union speech, of course, I will not stop in doing the same with others. However, I will always keep my diplomatic narrative. Personally, in climate change discourse I think that we must mature and go a step further. We should go beyond the “distribution network” and look into measures, which, with some thought may already be taken immediately, without breaking the bank!

In this context, I cannot help but not express a word of concern for the vulnerable and I firmly believe that steps may immediately be taken to protect them from the onslaught of climate change. We must consider low hanging fruit initiatives to protect the vulnerable and the elderly when heatwaves occur. Heatwaves will become more frequent, if not the norm, and therefore adaptability is not a choice but compulsory. For some, which may be regarded as vulnerable such as the elderly and those suffering from dementia but living alone, this new reality may be fatal due to several factors primarily dehydration. What I propose is immediately attainable and perhaps does not entail excessive financial resources.

Science has evolved to the point that the reliability of short-term weather forecasts has improved significantly, and the imminent impact of a heatwave can be verified generally with certainty. In the past, such heatwaves have already hit the islands, and therefore key focal points might already have a list of persons who would be regarded as adversely affected by a heatwave including for its duration and prolongation. Surely, advice to offer respites ideally in air-conditioned venues is already in place as part of perhaps a preliminary risk assessment. Citizens falling under a very high-risk cohort within our communities may be monitored or else offered respite in specific air-conditioned locations under supervised conditions when such excessive heatwaves occur. It would contemporaneously serve in promoting active aging but more importantly saving lives.

Certainly, I am sure that this simple idea will pre-empt dehydration deaths and hospitalisation. The government, or as its first assignment, the CCA, may easily plan this out by identifying venues capable of hosting recreational activities for the elderly and the vulnerable. Such activities may be carried out in coordination with the local councils, the Ministry of Active Aging, the Ministry for Health, the Archdiocese of Malta and why not the private sector as part of its corporate social responsibility. Indeed, the private sector can list its spending as part of the sustainability reporting under the social part of ESG. Let us not forget that we are in it together and therefore this requires a collective effort.

This is no bright idea which I came up with, it already happens in Belgium albeit for shorter periods of heat stress in July. I do not see why it cannot be implemented here in Malta when we already have designated Ċentri tal-Anzjani. Obviously, such venues ought to be adequately supported to provide constant power, perhaps supported by generators, lest power cuts reoccur – at least until the electricity distribution network is upgraded. Surely, such activities would serve a dual purpose. Given that climate change is no longer a myth but a reality, we must also think out of the box and see how we can make full use of our already available scarce resources. Personally, I think such an idea will assist the elderly and the vulnerable and pre-empt deaths as well as hospitalisation, thereby easing the pressure on the emergency department resources at our state hospitals. Clearly, when equating the high costs associated with hospitalisation relative to what I am proposing, and the saving of lives, surely it might result also in a lower implementation cost, thereby efficiently using financial resources by doing more with less.

- Advertisement -