Heat Is Not Just About Hardware - It's About People

Sourced from Thomson Reuters Foundation News

In the future we will see more heatwaves like the one we are experiencing right now. Ongoing urbanization processes and increasing surface temperatures due to climate change result in increased heat stress risk in many urban areas around the world. Particularly densely built-up urban areas are prone to urban heat island effects where temperatures hardly cool down over night.

At the same time societies are changing. Populations are ageing and the elderly suffer severely from heat stress. Therefore, we are looking at a growing group of highly vulnerable people and a stressor that is becoming more frequent and more intense.

With growing urbanization, people become more mobile and traditional family and community structures become less important. Community cohesion is weakening and people are less inclined to lend each other a hand during critical times, for example during a heatwave when you might need to rely on your family or friends to let you stay over if their place is cooler, or on your neighbors to take over the grocery shopping.

Overall, high temperatures will have a negative effect on health. Densely built-up urban areas tend to heat up and maintain heat more than the surrounding rural areas; a phenomenon called urban heat island effect. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly, young children, people with chronic diseases or low-income households are likely to suffer most.

What we are also seeing with the current heatwaves is that residents of cities or countries that are not used to heat stress are more vulnerable, as they have less experience with how to react appropriately, by for example adapting working hours, limiting outdoor sports activities or installing shading elements in apartments.

This is illustrated by the example of Montreal in Canada, where 52 people died following a 9-day heatwave in early July. In Germany, the heatwave of 2003 resulted in nearly 7,000 deaths and many heat-related illnesses due to heat stroke, dehydration, and cardiovascular disease.

So in short, heatwaves represent an increasing threat to cities in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Yet, not enough is done about it. City authorities are aware of heat as a topic, but they struggle to address it.

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