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Climate change: ‘complacency could be our enemy’, says researcher

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Astwood Park as Hurricane Fiona approached (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Care home residents could be moved to a specially set-up facility before major storms if forecasts predicted a risk of flooding, a health disaster co-ordinator revealed.

Brett Lefkowitz said he was mindful of the impacts of hurricanes and called on others to share their thoughts about the risks of climate change and associated extreme weather events.

He urged people to take part in a survey designed to help the Government understand public perceptions of the issues.

Dr Lefkowitz, a health disaster co-ordinator for the Ministry of Health, said: “The truth is that small islands are significantly at risk and a lot of the research is showing this.

“Even more important than that, what’s really shocked me is that when we look at the figures, our CO2 emissions per capita were more than China, Japan and Germany in 2018 and that’s quite a shocking indictment on all of us.”

Brett Lefkowitz, health disaster co-ordinator for the Ministry of Health, Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

He added that parts of the island, including places where vulnerable people lived, were "very susceptible“ to ocean surge and other impacts of climate change.

Dr Lefkowitz said that his health ministry role provided an "opportunity to see potential areas that could be helped“.

He explained: “With the last storm we had areas of the south coast that had surge of one metre.

“What we know from some of our research, even the research that I’ve done, is that if we had that kind of surge between one and one-and-a-half metres on some of our care homes — for example in Somerset — there would be substantive risk of flooding.

“These are very real risks and we are aware of it.”

Dr Lefkowitz said that a separate shelter was set up during Hurricane Fiona last month for people who used oxygen concentrators, so that there was somewhere other than the hospital for them to go if they lost power at home.

He added: “The next time we face a hurricane we will have an oxygen support shelter. We will have a facility, hopefully, for a pre-storm evacuation for a care home.”

Dr Lefkowitz highlighted how the Bermuda Weather Service can give 24 to 48 hours’ notice of what to expect in a hurricane.

He explained: “If we know that area A with care home B is susceptible to surge and we know that a Category 4 storm is coming, then we will have the facility to be able to evacuate that home and make sure that those patients, particularly those patients with disabilities, are not put at risk, because that’s our responsibility and we have to look after our vulnerable.”

Dr Lefkowitz said he was in regular contact with administrators at care homes when Hurricane Fiona brushed the island in September.

He added that a plan was now in place with the third sector to set up a facility in Somerset before a storm if forecasts suggested care home residents in the area were at risk.

A study of climate change and its potential impact on the island — led by Mark Guishard, adjunct faculty at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Studies and the director of the BWS — is under way.

Part of that work is Dr Lefkowitz’s research on threat perception of climate change and how that affects hurricane preparedness on the island as well as how that can play a part in health impacts.

The Government also launched a $200,000 climate change study aimed at determining threats to the island.

Dr Lefkowitz said that results of studies so far showed that "we’re going to be getting many more hurricanes both in terms of frequency and intensity”.

He added that the Government was working to prepare for disaster mitigation and how to adapt in the face of climate change to make sure that facilities and communities were protected.

Dr Lefkowitz said his study was a “starting point” to get as many and as broad a group of residents as possible to provide opinions on climate change, its impacts and where responsibility lies for managing effects — not just in the case of hurricanes but for any extreme weather events.

“Do we feel that we’re bombproof?” he asked. “You could feel like that because if you look at the impacts across the Caribbean compared to us, most islands suffer terribly and we tend to, a couple of days later, we’re back to normal. But complacency could be our enemy.”

Dr Lefkowitz explained: “For me to be able to make the case — and I am making the case very vociferously for the vulnerable because that’s really where I feel I can make a difference, so whether it’s people with disabilities or in care homes, whether it’s people sitting at home who need extra support — we need to have a voice.”

He added: “The Government is aware. The Government is listening and is preparing mitigation and adaptation measures to protect the community, especially the vulnerable.”

To take part in the survey visitwww.surveymonkey.com/r/BGXR7G9.

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Published October 24, 2022 at 7:16 am (Updated October 24, 2022 at 7:16 am)

Climate change: ‘complacency could be our enemy’, says researcher

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