During B.C.’s heat dome, 719 individuals died unexpectedly, more than double the amount of deaths that would ordinarily occur in the province during the one-week timeframe. The bulk of those who died was elderly and lived alone, and many had to wait for hours for assistance as B.C.’s ambulance services became overburdened as temperatures in southern B.C. soared above 40 degrees Celsius from June 25 to July 1, and even longer in certain areas.
When the record-breaking heat was predicted at least a week in advance, many people rushed out to buy air conditioners and fans. Municipalities across the province set up cooling stations, while volunteer groups distributed water bottles. Despite this, many people were caught off guard on the hottest days, checking into hotels as their apartments and residences grew unbearably hot.
Premier John Horgan stated in Kamloops on Tuesday afternoon that municipalities had been given ample warning and were prepared. “The idea of hotter weather again, we didn’t think of it as disastrous hotter weather; we just thought of it as hotter weather, and I don’t think there were many people who didn’t. To be sure, there were warnings, and we did our best given the circumstances ” he stated.
The British Columbia Ministry of Health said in a statement that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the B.C. Coroner will comment on the heat dome’s lessons learned at a later date. The British Columbia Liberals have now called for an independent assessment of the province’s reaction to the heatwave, noting in a statement that “the coroner has been clear that the public did not realize the serious risk that the heatwave posed.”
The deaths in British Columbia raise the question of who, if anyone, is to blame for deaths caused by excessive heat. The City Planning Commission of Vancouver, a voluntary advisory organization focusing on long-term planning, is asking this topic.
“Failure to act and create a policy that reflects the reality of people’s lives can and will cause people who would otherwise be alive to die,” reads a nine-page memorandum sent to city council, outlining a list of recommendations to help Vancouver residents cope with extreme heat and poor air quality.
The letter urges for the Vancouver Park Board to open parks and beaches overnight to provide cooling spaces, as well as the distribution of air conditioners and purifiers to individuals who cannot afford them. According to Robyn Chan, co-chair of the panel, policy should prioritize the elderly, unhoused, and impoverished persons who may be unable to leave their homes to visit a cooling station.
According to research published in May, climate change is directly responsible for more than one-third of the world’s heat deaths each year. According to Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, determining who should be held accountable following extreme weather disasters is challenging.
Building rules in British Columbia may need to change to minimize deaths from overheating, rather than increasing capacity in the health system in preparation for more heatwaves, he added.