By Alice Cronin
Melbourne has seen an increase in extreme weather events in recent years, such as the thunderstorm asthma event in 2016 and the floods of 2022. All climate science research predicts these events will increase in frequency and intensity by the 2050s.
Public health researchers at Victoria University, with Australian Multicultural Community Services, are examining ways in which culturally diverse communities in Melbourne’s west are coping with these extreme weather events and what support is needed. Researchers have been meeting with groups and individuals to learn about their experiences during heatwaves, storms, floods and earthquakes.
Participants from many cultural backgrounds have taken part in small group discussions. Some have used art such as drawing and poetry to express their ideas. Others have participated in walking interviews with the researchers to show the impact of extreme weather in their neighbourhood.
Several key findings have emerged so far. For example, the emotional toll of extreme weather events is evident. Participants have described feeling scared, worried and depressed during these events. Being stuck at home and not knowing what’s going to happen next are some factors contributing to these feelings. Also commonly discussed are the health effects of extreme weather. For example, the effect of cold weather on arthritis or skin damage caused by the intense sun. Another issue being highlighted is the damage to houses and properties during storms and flooding.
Participants have described the support currently available during extreme weather events. One participant spoke of being regularly updated by emergency services during the 2022 floods and the comfort that this provided. Other participants spoke of shopping centres and libraries as sites of relief during heatwaves. But some participants feel there is not enough awareness of local sites or teams that can support them during these events.
The findings from this project will be shared with local government and community support organisations in the west to assist them to provide appropriate support as extreme climate events increase in frequency. A community exhibition showing the research findings will be held in November.
This project will continue over the coming months and is open to individuals and groups, 18 years of age and older, from culturally diverse communities in Melbourne’s west. If you’d like to take part, please contact Victoria University PhD Candidate Alice at firstname.lastname@example.org