UN, Red Cross Report: Heatwaves Claimed 70,000 Lives Between 2010-2019, Urge Better Preparedness For Future Climate Extremes

Fatalities on account of heatwaves constituted for more than one-sixth of the more than 410,000 deaths from disasters linked to extreme weather and climate over the same span.

Delhi streets amid severe heatwave in the month of May.

In a report titled “Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of the Future,” the International Red Cross and the United Nations humanitarian aid agency OCHA raised alarm bells over the rising number of casualties as a result of heatwaves globally. The joint report revealed that 38 heat waves accounted for the deaths of more than 70,000 people worldwide from 2010 to 2019 — a likely underestimate of the real toll — on top of the fallout on lives and livelihoods.

To this end, OCHA and Red Cross called on governments of the world to step up efforts to prepare for possible heat waves, and highlighted that the fatalities on account of heatwaves constituted for more than one-sixth of the more than 410,000 deaths from disasters linked to extreme weather and climate over the same span, citing previous Red Cross calculations, Associated Press reported.

Heatwaves: deadliest disaster on record

OCHA Chief Martin Griffiths told Associated Press that ““Heat waves account for some of the deadliest disasters on record,” adding that “Devastating droughts like the one pushing Somalia to the brink of famine are made far deadlier when they combine with extreme heat. We can expect more of these in the future. Indeed, things are only going to get far worse as climate change continues to spiral out of control.”

Climate Injustice

The two organisations warn in particular about the outsize impact on developing countries: They cite figures that Bangladesh, for example, experienced as much as a 20% increase in deaths on heat wave days compared with an average day. Heat waves can drive people to flee their hot homelands — adding to migration to cooler countries.

“It’s grossly unjust that fragile countries must bear deadly loss and damage from extreme heat when they are unambiguously and clearly and evidently the least responsible for climate change,” Griffiths remarked.

“Wealthier countries have the resources to help their people adapt and have made promises to do so. Poorer countries who are not responsible for these torturous heatwaves do not have those resources.”

Recent heatwaves that wrecked havoc

Earlier this year, the national capital, Delhi witnessed severe heatwaves in the summer months between April and June, with mercury soaring to as high as 49 degree celsius. Adjoining states of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Bihar also witnessed soaring temperatures, which prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to flag the increased risk of fires due to rising temperatures. 

In July, reports of severe heatwaves in Britain, typically a temperate nation, sweltering in heat have left alarm bells ringing across the world, as the United Kingdom Met Office recorded a  reading of 40.2 degrees Celsius. A huge chunk of England, from London in the south to Manchester and Leeds in the north, remained under the country's first “red” warning for extreme heat in the month of July, meaning there is danger of death even for healthy people. 

Similarly, abnormally high temperatures were reported from a number of other areas this year including in California, Portugal, Israel, Palestine amongst others.

Better preparedness needed

On the checklist of steps, Red Cross and OCHA noted that some humanitarian groups are testing the rollout of emergency housing, “green” roofs, cooling centers and changes to school calendars to mitigate the impact of heat waves, which many scientists say have become more frequent because of human-made climate change.

Beyond that, governments were also encouraged to boost early-warning systems about heat waves and give more training and funding to local responders who often are first on site when heat waves hit. The agencies say better coordination between humanitarian groups, development organizations and weather experts is needed, too.

(With inputs from AP)