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'Left to cope on my own': Heatwave gripping Spain is hitting people with disabilities hardest

Fernando Uceta uses a portable oxygen concentrator backpack with a battery to breathe as he sits in the balcony of his house during the first summer heatwave, in Barcelona.
Fernando Uceta uses a portable oxygen concentrator backpack with a battery to breathe as he sits in the balcony of his house during the first summer heatwave, in Barcelona. Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Reuters
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Extreme weather in Spain is affecting its citizens with disabilities disproportionately, leaving many to fend for themselves without support.

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As a heatwave rolling over Spain entered its second day on Tuesday, Barcelona residents disproportionately affected by extreme temperatures due to disabilities were mostly forced to suffer the heat indoors.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Monday that people with disabilities faced risks of death, and physical, social, and mental health distress due to extreme heat, particularly if "left to cope with dangerous temperatures on their own".

"I stay in bed almost without clothes and the fan turned on its maximum setting," Fernando Uceta, 62, a Barcelona man who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and received a double lung transplant last August, told Reuters.

'It's discouraging for me'

During excessive heat, Uceta struggles more to breathe and feels very tired. He also needs to spray himself with water.

"It's discouraging for me that I can hardly go outside," said Uceta, who shares a flat with a friend and a cat named "Queen," explaining he could not afford an air-conditioning unit that would send his electricity bill rocketing.

According to HRW, poverty is another factor that exacerbates risks faced by extreme heat.

Reuters
Fernando Uceta who suffers from COPD following a double lung transplant in August 2022, exercises near his cat inside his house during the first summer heatwave in Barcelona.Reuters

No specific heat wave plans for the disabled

In an interview HRW carried out in Andalusia following temperatures as high as 50C in July 2022, Lauren Sanchez, a 41-year-old woman with a physical disability from Seville said she felt "abandoned by the government".

Heatwaves due to climate change are predicted to occur more regularly in Southern Europe, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and as per the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), countries are responsible for the protection and safety of people with disabilities.

Yet, HRW found that Spain's 2022 National Heatwave Action Plan does not formulate specific actions required to address the risks those with disabilities face.

There isn't specific data on the number of deaths among those with disabilities because of extreme temperatures. But the Spanish government does collect data according to age. 

In 2022, over 98 percent of around 4,600 heat-related mortalities in Spain were people aged 65 and older.

According to HRW, over half of the people with disabilities registered in Spain are 65 and older, meaning they would've been affected disproportionally in the face of extreme heat.

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