Life in a furnace

Szép Gyöngyvér

© Domaniczky Tivadar

Apartment blocks in Budapest, Óbuda

© Domaniczky Tivadar

Szép Gyöngyvér, 53 years old, unemployed, mother of 3 boys and 1 girl. The family of five lives in a 50 m2 apartment in a prefab building. “We have to get by on €500 a month. The utility bill is €260. The district heating costs €130 in the winter and €60 in the summer and yet the temperature in the apartment is never pleasant – it’s always too hot. In the winter, it’s 26°C and I can’t regulate it, so I have to leave the window open to achieve a normal temperature. So I basically warm the street. In the summer, it’s 33°C inside, which means I cannot sleep and suffer from edema and swelling. I remember when I moved here seven years ago, the temperature was at least 4°C lower.

There are nearly 788,000 prefab apartments in Hungary, which are home to 2.1 million people. Technical problems, poor roofing and plumbing, inadequate heat and noise insulation and non-regulable district heating lead to disproportionately high living costs in these microdistricts. The national programme for insulating these apartments is progressing very slowly. In the heatwave of 2003, the national average number of days on which the maximum temperature exceeded 30°C was 45 – a new record. During the heatwaves between 2008 and 2011, a 15–28% increase in the mortality rate was observed. In summer 2019, the average temperature exceeded the climate norm every single day. The month of August was around 30% drier than average. The urban population is at far greater risk as the temperatures are several degrees higher, the natural air exchange is reduced and heat radiation from the buildings means temperatures remain high for longer.