Extreme heat tests in US cities aimed at helping low-income residents

image caption, ‘The Zone’ is Phoenix’s largest homeless encampment

  • author, Ana Fagui
  • stock, BBC News, Washington

Mary Carter has survived Phoenix summers for 40 years, but she was paralyzed by the heat when the air conditioning stopped working in her small trailer.

Ms. Carter, 73, lived in a seven-foot-long trailer in Arizona last summer because temperatures were 115F (46.1C) or higher without air circulation. A new county program offering air conditioning units and repairs eventually helped him.

“Without air, you can’t live in this city,” he told the BBC. “He who tries is mad.”

The temperature in the city is forecast to reach 114F (45.5C) on Thursday. This ominous forecast has become a new normal not only for the American West, but for communities in the United States and around the world as scientists predict extreme weather events will become more frequent and intense with climate change.

As health experts warn that heat-related deaths are on the rise, the air-conditioning program is one avenue cities across the U.S. are fighting against the sweltering heat. Communities are forced to take extra measures to help their most vulnerable populations – especially the homeless – survive.

image caption, People seek shelter at cooling centers like the First Church UCC Cooling Center in Phoenix.

Deaths are increasing every year

The Number of deaths in the district Every year has gone up. In 2013, 76 heat-related deaths were reported. Ten years later, 645 deaths represented a 784% increase.

Brian Lee, head of Phoenix’s Office of Emergency Management, told the BBC that the city began preparing for summer earlier this year.

“Our primary function is to save lives,” Mr Lee said. “Every person we can get in an air-conditioned room with a bottle of water is a person we can save.”

Communication with residents on how to prepare for extreme heat began on May 1 in Phoenix, Mr Lee said.

The first test for the city was a severe heat wave that hit earlier this month, bringing an earlier-than-usual season into the triple digits for major cities in the American West.

Temperatures ranged from 114F (45.5C) to 121F in places including Las Vegas, Nevada and Palm Springs and Death Valley in California. In some cities, temperature records were broken weeks before summer officially began.

The heat is forcing officials to be more proactive in their response.

This year, Mr Lee’s office has identified new places for homeless people to stay, including local libraries.

As temperatures warm, the needs of homeless and low-income people are shifting from places to sleep to places where they can beat the heat and cool down — something experts say could save lives.

“I couldn’t even go to the bathroom, it was so hot,” she said.

This program has helped around 700 people since 2021. Several days later, the province sent a repairman to Ms Carter’s trailer and determined she needed a new unit. The county replaced it for free, something Ms. Carter said she couldn’t afford.

Millions are under heat warnings

Phoenix is ​​not alone in facing a deadly problem.

High heat Killed more than 1,500 people In the United States in 2022, the Associated Press reports, half of those will be homeless, but exact figures on the number of heat-related deaths are hard to come by because they aren’t officially tracked.

But health experts have warned that based on available data, deaths from illness and extreme heat are on the rise 2022 report. If the globe continues to warm, they predict a sharp rise.

The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported earlier this month that the world has hit 12 consecutive months of warmest temperatures.

Last month was the hottest May on record.

This week, the East Coast is experiencing above-normal temperatures in the West.

As the heat worsens, communities are looking for solutions in the hope of avoiding dangerous consequences, Steve Berg, chief policy officer of the National Coalition to End Homelessness, told BBC News.

Many major US cities are preparing for snow and extreme cold by opening warming centers and ensuring homeless people have a place to go, Mr. Berg said, but cities must now calculate providing similar support for extreme heat.

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