UN, Red Cross seek better preparation for future heat waves

GENEVA – The International Red Cross and the United Nations are calling on people and governments to do more to beat the heat by better preparing for heat waves like the recent ones from Sacramento, California, to Somalia to Sichuan, China, that could take many lives in the future.

The UN humanitarian aid agency OCHA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued their first joint report on Monday, charting the devastation of past scorchers and laying out ways to prepare and limit future damage.

The report, “Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of the Future,” said 38 heatwaves accounted for more than 70,000 deaths worldwide from 2010 to 2019 — a likely underestimate of the real toll — on top of the toll on lives and livelihoods .

That number was more than one-sixth of the more than 410,000 deaths from disasters linked to extreme weather and climate over the same span, the report said, citing earlier Red Cross estimates.

On the checklist of steps, the two organizations say some humanitarian groups are testing the rollout of emergency shelters, “green” roofs, cooling centers and changes to school calendars to mitigate the impact of heat waves, which many researchers say have become more frequent because of human-induced climate change .

Beyond that, governments were urged to boost early warning systems for heat waves and provide more training and funding to local responders, who are often first on the scene when heat waves strike. The agencies say better coordination is also needed between humanitarian groups, development organizations and weather experts.

In particular, the UN and OCHA warn of the major impact on developing countries: they cite figures that Bangladesh, for example, experienced as much as a 20% increase in deaths on heatwave days compared to an average day.

Heat waves can cause people to flee their hot homelands – increasing migration to cooler countries.

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