During the ongoing climate change summit in Egypt, the World Health Organization made a worrying announcement, at least 15,000 people die from heat in 2022 in Europe.
Heatwave in Europe
Among these deaths, health authorities have reported almost 4,000 deaths in Spain, more than 1,000 in Portugal, more than 3,200 in the United Kingdom and around 4,500 in Germany during the three summer months.
The three months between June and August were the warmest in Europe, with exceptionally high temperatures causing the continent’s worst drought since the Middle Ages.
“Based on data submitted by countries so far, it is estimated that at least 15,000 people have died specifically due to heatwaves in 2022,” WHO regional director Hans Kluge said in a statement.
“Nearly 4,000 deaths in Spain, more than 1,000 in Portugal, more than 3,200 in the UK and some 4,500 deaths in Germany were recorded by health authorities during the three summer months,” it added. “That estimate is expected to rise as more countries report heat-related deaths,” Kluge said.
European crops withered in granaries and lack of rain sparked record-breaking fires and strained the continent’s power grid. The successive heat waves between June and July, when the mercury reached 40 ºC in the United Kingdom for the first time, left Europe with an excess of 24,000 deaths, approximately.
Temperatures in Europe, indicates the WHO, have increased considerably during the period 1961-2021, at an average rate of about 0.5 °C per decade. It is the fastest-warming region, according to a report published this week by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Thus, extreme temperatures were the cause of the loss of more than 148,000 lives in the European region in the previous 50 years, while in just one year since then at least another 15,000 lives have been lost.
In 2021, weather and climate events also caused hundreds of deaths and directly affected more than half a million people, and about 84% of these events were floods or storms.
These health impacts that Europeans are now experiencing with a 1.1°C rise in global average temperature are just a sample of what we can expect if the temperature rises by 2°C or more compared to pre-industrial levels, a fact that, according to the WHO, “should sound the alarm about our future under a changing climate”.
Weather events leads to more illness
In the coming decades, increased exposure and vulnerability to heat waves and other extreme weather events will lead to more illness and death, unless countries take truly drastic adaptation and mitigation measures to address climate change.
Heat-related health action plans are “crucial” to climate change adaptation, protecting communities from heat-related deaths and illnesses.
According to the WHO, more than 20 countries in the region have health plans for heat and, although this is encouraging, it is far from enough, since for the plans to be effective “strong coordination and intersectoral cooperation are needed: if we are better prepared for a warmer region, we will save many lives”.
Meanwhile, Europe just had its hottest summer and August on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
In addition to high temperatures, “we have battled devastating wildfires across the region, causing the largest carbon emissions since 2007, polluting our air and killing many people, often including the first aid line in emergency services, they have displaced many more and have destroyed large hectares of land”.
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