The heat wave’s victimsThe alarming summer heat wave is sweeping the nation with no sign of a letup. The scorching sun that is cooking some urban areas to temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit) at noon makes even healthy people have trouble sleeping at night. But the most vulnerable group in the sweltering heat are senior citizens already afflicted with some kind of illness who live alone in makeshift abodes or rented rooms in basements without any support from the outside world. We still have a number of people around us struggling to live in such circumstances, particularly in the shantytowns of our metropolitan areas.
Sultry weather is particularly dangerous to the aged as it can cause heatstroke, cardiovascular disease and strokes. A recent report by the Korea Environment Institute, a public research arm under the Office of the Prime Minister, says that the number of deaths among older people rises in proportion to an increase in the temperature. We learned a meaningful lesson from the disasters of scorching heat wave that hit Chicago in 1995 and the European Continent in 2003: the low-income senior citizen group were the first victims of such intense heat waves.
According to a survey by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, a whopping 77 percent - 910,000 citizens - of the elderly who live alone are classified as being near the poverty line and, among them, 42.5 percent earn less than the minimum wage. It is high time for the central and local governments to find better ways to avert such pitiful deaths of an underprivileged class who don’t deserve to die because of lack of care and attention.
To do that, government authorities, along with the police, public health care centers and welfare stations under their jurisdiction, must intensify their collective efforts to take care of this vulnerable class until September, when the heat subsides. They must also conduct safety checks on a regular basis to see if they can effectively and efficiently deal with an emergency.
The extraordinary heat wave hitting an entire nation doesn’t seem to be going away soon. As the government issues heat wave warnings, our society’s sympathy and care for our senior citizens is needed more than ever. And that goes way beyond the governmental realm. All citizens must help our elders live through the devilish heat wave with a compassion that doesn’t fade no matter how high the mercury goes.