by | April 28, 2023 | Opinion

This summer may pose a strain on public health systems, and the European community should start planning for a difficult summer

  1. Temperatures forecasts for this summer

Last summer was the hottest on record in Europe. Predictions for global temperatures this year are worrying; , which had been cooling the Pacific, and global temperatures, is predicted to shift to its warmer opposite: El Niño. With this warmer weather system, the air temperature may warm, causing a year of higher temperatures and heatwaves. Spain has already recorded a temperature record for April, with Cordoba reaching 38.8°C on April 27. Heat and heatwaves are a major public health threat, especially affecting those who have an impaired ability to regulate body temperature (such as older people), or those who are unable to access cooler environments (such as those without access to, or unable to afford or run, air conditioning. Income is the factor in extreme heat events most associated with day-to-day mortality.

  1. Ocean warming

Ocean temperatures have been rising higher than expected in the last few weeks, as reported by The Guardian. Warmer ocean temperatures mean expansion of water and sea level rise, greater ice melt and impacts on marine life. This is outside of warming predicted in models, concerning scientists that we are heading into “uncharted territory” of climate anomalies. Warmer water is less able to absorb CO2 and can also contribute to more severe weather events. Extreme weather events often hit marginalised groups the hardest, and marginalised groups may have impaired resilience to be able to cope with the effects of extreme weather events.

  1. Water shortage

A quarter of Europe is already in drought this year, and with rivers falling to record low levels last year, and a warm, dry winter, Europe is heading into 2023 with less groundwater and water reserves than usual. Even with increased rainfall over the coming months, Europe will not have enough water reserves to replenish what has been lost. A changing climate is going to see shifting rainfall patterns, less glacier water and more evaporation. Drought poses a significant threat to livelihoods, industry, food systems, power generation and social stability, all of which can have a flow on effect on public health, especially the most marginalised. Securing water resources and logical water management should be a focus, but these should keep the health of people, and the protection of marginalised populations, front and centre.

Health authorities and governments should start preparing for a potentially difficult summer, and particularly start planning to protect the most marginalised, who suffer the greatest in times of crisis, and with a changing climate. Formalising and activating and ways to protect the most vulnerable from heat are invaluable in times of high temperature. Proper management of fixed resources, such as water, should ensure provision of water access, especially for the most vulnerable. Also relevant are other preparedness plans for extreme weather events that may come with increased temperatures, such as wildfires, severe storms and flooding.

And of course, governments and international bodies should be urgently stepping up efforts to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and prevent the worst of the climate change. Ambitious policies to phase out fossil fuels are essential and sorely needed for the health of our people and planet.

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