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WMO warns of health risks linked to increasing heat waves in Europe, US

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The World Meteorological Organization, WMO, has warned of the health hazards including death risk associated with increasing heat waves affecting parts of Europe, Asia and the United States.

In an alert released on Tuesday, 18 July, 2023, the agency said heatwaves are amongst the world’s deadliest natural hazards. The Senior Heat Advisor of WMO, John Nairn, also told reporters that extreme temperatures are poised to grow in frequency, duration and intensity.

“Repeated high night-time temperatures are particularly dangerous for human health because the body is unable to recover from sustained heat. This leads to increased cases of heart attacks and death,” he said.

In a recent report, the UN agency disclosed that 60,000 additional people died due to extreme heat in Europe last summer. This is despite the continent’s strong early warning and health action plans.

WMO said that it was urgent to adapt infrastructure to withstand prolonged high temperatures and to raise vulnerable people’s awareness of the risks.

“Heat is a rapidly growing health risk due to increased or rapid urbanization, the increasing extreme temperatures and an ageing population”, said Mr. Nairn.

According to WMO, this year’s extensive and intense heatwaves are alarming – but not unexpected – as they are in line with forecasts.

Mr Nairn stated that high temperatures are not normal weather systems of the past, and represent consequences of climate change. “You are losing the North Pole ice and that is reinforcing that mechanism and it will continue for some time,” he said.

The WMO expert added that “the recently declared El Niño is only expected to amplify the occurrence and intensity of extreme heat events. “And they will have quite serious impacts on human health and livelihoods.”

Responding to question on how the current heatwave had developed, Mr. Nairn pointed to “parked weather systems that accumulate a lot of sunshine and heat in one location that moves extremely slowly. You have to reverse it. You have to do climate repair to change it. So, it is global warming and is going to continue for some time.”

The UN agency stressed that worldwide, more intense and extreme heat is unavoidable and that it is imperative to prepare and adapt as many cities, homes and workplaces are not built to withstand prolonged high temperatures.

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