Unforgiving heatwaves torment globe; Europe braces for record highs

Published July 19, 2023
A FIREMAN douses flames of a wildfire at a settlement near Agioi Theodori, 70 kilometres west of Athens, on Tuesday.—AFP
A FIREMAN douses flames of a wildfire at a settlement near Agioi Theodori, 70 kilometres west of Athens, on Tuesday.—AFP

ROME: Europe braced for record-smashing heat on Tuesday as withering heatwaves across the globe showed no signs of easing, and ongoing wildfires in Greece and the Canary Islands threatened homes while worsening air quality.

Across vast swathes of the planet, from California to China, authorities have warned of the health dangers of the extreme heat, urging people to drink water and shelter from the burning sun.

In a stark reminder of the effects of global warming, the UN’s World Meteorological Agency (WMO) said the trend of heatwaves “shows no signs of decreasing”.

“These events will continue to grow in intensity, and the world needs to prepare for more intense heatwaves,” John Nairn, a senior extreme heat adviser at the WMO told reporters in Geneva.

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

World Meteorological Agency warns of risk of heart attacks, deaths during extreme heat

Temperatures were unforgiving in Italy and in Spain, where three regions were put under hot weather red alerts. But as of midday, the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily had yet to surpass a continent-wide record of 48.8 degrees Celsius, (119.8 degrees Fahrenheit), recorded in Sicily in August 2021.

Many throughout Italy sought escape by the sea, including outside Rome, where the midday heat hit 40 degrees. Back in Rome, street hawkers substituted parasols and fans for selfie sticks, as tourists struggled to find rare patches of shade and waiters sported short sleeves instead of their customary more formal attire.

Tourists still needed to eat, said Mauro Natale, 45, a waiter at a cafe near the Pantheon, but “instead of a carbonara or an amatriciana (pasta), they just want to eat salad”.

Northwest of the Greek capital Athens, a vast cloud of smoke loomed over the forest of Dervenohoria, where one of several fires around the capital and beyond was still burning.

The heatwaves across Europe and the globe are “not one single phenomenon but several acting at the same time,” said Robert Vautard, director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace climate institute. “But they are all strengthened by one factor: climate change.”

In drought-stricken Spain, temperatures were set to reach highs of 44C in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. “You can’t be in the street, it’s horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible,” said Lidia Rodriguez, 27, in Madrid.

In the Canary Islands, some 400 firefighters battled a wildfire that has ravaged 3,500 hectares of forest and forced 4,000 residents to evacuate, with authorities warning residents to wear face masks outside due to poor air quality.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2023

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