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Extreme heat 'disproportionately' impacts people with disabilities

People with disabilities in Spain and other European countries have been disproportionately affected by unprecedented heat extremes, a leading human rights watchdog said on Monday, urging authorities to provide adequate support.

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

Some people with disabilities are more likely to have health conditions or use medication that can affect the body's ability to respond to heat. Having to stay home due to the heat can also lead to social isolation, HRW said.

Jonas Bull, the assistant disability rights researcher at HRW, told Reuters that inaccessible urban spaces exacerbated the problem. Bull said his research focused on Spain but can be applied to other nations in Europe, which according to scientists is the fastest-warming continent on the planet.

The report said lack of representation in the process of developing heatwave emergency plans meant the voices of people with disabilities were often not heard and their needs not included.

In Spain, one of the European nations that experienced record-breaking heatwaves last summer, the national plan to address the impacts of climate change lists actions to protect "vulnerable" populations but it does not propose any specific measures for people with disabilities, HRW said.

HRW interviewed 33 people with disabilities in the Spanish region of Andalusia and all said "they felt neglected" during heatwaves.

Bull recently presented the report to authorities in Andalusia and said they were committed to prioritizing the issue in the future.

Heatwaves led to some 16,000 excess deaths last year in Europe but some countries, including Spain, do not break down data to show how people with disabilities are affected.

HRW said data was crucial to be able to implement targeted measures, as was bringing people with disabilities to the table when putting together climate plans.