Like neighboring Spain, which experienced the worst snowfall in 50 years, Portugal is now facing a record-breaking cold spell. Storm Filomena and other weather phenomena knocked down thermometers across the country, sweeping snow away in places it hadn’t seen in over a decade, like Alentejo.
In most of the northern and central districts, the minimums were negative, reaching -5 ° C in Bragança.
In addition to blanketing various parts of the country with snow, the sudden drop in temperatures exposed precarious warming conditions for millions of Portuguese.
At least 18.9% of the population, or around 2 million people, cannot afford to heat their own homes, according to a 2019 survey by Eurostat (the statistical agency of the European Union). A result well above 6.9% of the average for EU countries.
Trying to use cheaper solutions, like improvised kerosene or charcoal stoves, the Portuguese are also vulnerable to accidents, which are often fatal.
In the most recent one, on December 27, an elderly couple died of suffocation from carbon monoxide in the Guarda region. They used a charcoal stove to heat the room they slept in.
The financial difficulty of heating the house, officially called energy poverty, is considered a serious problem for the European Commission.
“Fuel poverty is a different form of poverty, associated with several negative consequences for the health and well-being of people”, defines the institution, which lists cardiac, respiratory and mental health disorders caused by exposure to low temperatures and the “stress of unaffordable electricity bills”.
The financial question has a great weight in Portugal. Despite one of the lowest minimum wages in the eurozone, the country has some of the most expensive electricity in the bloc.
Also 2018 data from Eurostat, adjusted for purchasing power between countries, showed Portugal as the EU member with the most expensive electricity for families.
Poor thermal insulation conditions in Portuguese houses are also reported as part of the problem.
If there are countries with defined standards in this area since the 1960s, the first regulation on thermal conditions of construction in Portugal dates from 1990. In other words, a significant part of the houses in the country do not have everything. simply not been built with these criteria in mind.
Even in big cities, like Lisbon and Porto, thermal comfort can be precarious. Central heating systems are scarce, and it’s common to find middle-class homes with excess humidity, as well as windows and doors that don’t block the entry and exit of air.
“I usually joke that Portugal is the coldest country in the world. I have never been so cold at home as here, ”says Hungarian Lörinc Káts, who is doing an international relations semester in Lisbon.
The situation is even more serious indoors, however, where rudimentary fireplaces are often the only form of heating for residents, especially the elderly.
These factors provide insight into how, although it is far from having one of the harshest winters in Europe, Portugal still leads the way among cold deaths.
An analysis of information on deaths between 1980 and 2013 in 30 European countries, published in the Journal of Public Health, shows Portugal in second place among the countries with the most deaths in winter, behind only Malta.
The researchers draw attention to the paradoxical question of countries with less severe winters in mind among excessive deaths this season.
“Many factors seem to be contributing to this effect. Spending proportionately more on heating costs is an obvious protective factor, which in colder regions is virtually non-negotiable for survival […]. Other protective factors include the quality of housing [especialmente isolamento e eficiência energética dos materiais de construção]Says the job.
In a recent hearing in Parliament, the Minister of Environment and Climate Action, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, said the government will launch an energy poverty plan in the first quarter of 2021.
According to the minister, 620 million euros (around R $ 4 billion) are planned for the project, which includes rehabilitation works on public and private buildings, in addition to a kind of voucher to finance improvement works. thermal and energy in country houses.
With the record cold and the proximity of a new general containment increasing the domestic electricity consumption of the Portuguese, the government announced a 10% reduction on electricity bills across the country.
The measure, made public on Tuesday (12), will be valid from January and as long as the confinement caused by Covid-19 lasts. All families will be covered, regardless of income bracket.
The country has already implemented a social electricity tariff, which guarantees the poorest populations discounts of 33.8% on the energy consumed. The newly announced reduction is cumulative.
In October 2019, 749,000 families benefited from the social electricity tariff.