UN warns of heatwave health risks

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Northern Africa and the Mideast have been baking under extreme temperatures much of the summer.

Refugee areas hit hard by extreme heat this summer

Staff Report

As global warming drives record heatwaves around the world, the UN is warning that more must be done to warn and protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat.

Some studies show that, even in developed countries, deaths spike during hot weather. The risk may be even higher in developing countries, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said last week in a news release.

“Millions of people around the world should be receiving heat-related warnings and advisories if we are to avoid a repeat of the thousands of deaths which occurred last year from heatwaves notably in Asia and Europe,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction.

“More effort is required to ensure that the poor and vulnerable including refugees, children, older persons and persons living with disabilities are reached with early warnings and that practical measures are taken to ensure they have access to water and adequate shelter and protection from the heat and the sun,” Glaser said, adding that emergency service managers need to “step up the focus on extreme heat” to reduce mortality.

The first six months of the year have been the hottest on record with record warmth across large parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. During the period 2005 to 2014 an average of 25 major heatwaves were recorded each year resulting in an annual average death toll of 7,232. In 2015, the hottest year on record, there were 3,275 reported deaths from heatwaves in France, 2,248 in India, and 1,229 in Pakistan.

The warning came as the World Meteorological Organization set out to determine whether a 54 degree Celsius (129.2 degrees Fahrenheit) reading on July 21 in Mitrabah, Kuwait, set a new highest temperature record for the Eastern hemisphere and Asia. The Mideast and North Africa were scorched by blazing temperatures in mid-July, with daily highs reaching 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for sustained periods.

Large parts of the Middle East and North Africa were gripped by heatwaves since last week. Temperatures exceeding by a large margin the seasonal averages, and over a sustained period. This affected, in particular, the northern part of countries in the Arabian Gulf and North Africa.

Globally, hot days, hot nights and heatwaves have become more frequent. The length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves will likely increase further during this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientists say many of the extreme heat events between 2011 and 2015 were made much more likely by global warming.

The first half of 2016 has been the hottest six-month period on record, with
warmer to much-warmer-than-average conditions engulfing most of the world’s land and ocean surfaces. Record warmth was widespread across Alaska, western Canada, southern Mexico, northern South America, central Africa, Indonesia, northern and eastern Australia, North Indian Ocean, and across parts of north-central Russia, western Asia, central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, the southwestern Pacific Ocean, and the northwestern Atlantic Ocean.

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