Extreme heat and climate change: adaptation in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities

Public health Climate change Multiculturalism Immigration CALD Australia New South Wales South Australia Victoria


Background: Several overseas studies have identified that people in ethnic minority groups are at greater risk during heatwaves. However, there is a paucity of information on this issue in Australia. With a highly multicultural society, it is important that vulnerable subpopulations and minority groups are recognised and considered in climate change discussions and the formulation of adaptation strategies.

Objective: To identify cultural, socioeconomic and linguistic factors affecting vulnerability to heat and climate change in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, to identify vulnerable subgroups, and where appropriate to recommend ways to increase adaptive capacity.

Methods: Interviews and focus groups were conducted with stakeholders from the government sector, non-government organisations, the health sector and CALD communities in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Data were analysed using thematic analysis and framework analysis. A workshop was also held to engage with and seek recommendations from stakeholders.

Results: For socio-cultural reasons subgroups within CALD communities do not cope well with Australia’s extreme heat which can differ from heat experienced elsewhere. Those at risk include older migrants and new arrivals, people in new and emerging communities, and low income migrants who lack English proficiency skills. Socioeconomic disadvantage, linguistic barriers, poor quality housing and cultural issues contribute to vulnerability. At present the needs of many are unmet in terms of knowledge about harm minimisation strategies during extreme heat. To facilitate climate change adaptation for the broader population and minimise potential heat health disparities, there needs to be equity in access to resources that can aid in building resilience. This will require a suite of communication tools to cater for Australia’s growing number of residents with diverse cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds. The social capital existing within networks and the high adaptive capacity of migrants are enablers in the adaptation process.

Conclusion: Providing information to new migrants and refugees about climate change risks in Australia and ways to sustain health during extreme heat will assist in overcoming barriers in vulnerable sectors of communities. Promoting social connectedness will also facilitate a more inclusive approach to climate change adaptation. An outcome from this translational research has been an increase in awareness amongst policymakers of the need for broader communication of heat messages.

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