Deadly Heat Waves Are Getting Worse

Rising global temperatures are causing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme climatic events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves. As the climate has warmed, the intensity of deadly heat waves is going to be a much bigger problem in the coming decades. Now almost a third of the world is exposed to more frequent heat waves, with the largest relative effect on summer temperatures in developing regions, such as Africa, Middle East and South Asia.

Recently India had suffered several intense heat waves. Temperatures in some cities in India, including the capital New Delhi, reached well above 40°C even earlier than previous years. The warming effect is expected to sharpen summer temperatures even more, which could result in more deaths as tens of millions of Indians live in poverty, with no access to electricity or fresh clean water.

Just last month most cities in Pakistan reeled under intense heat wave condition. The southwest Pakistani city of Turbat recorded a temperature of 53.5°C on May 28 — the world’s hottest-ever temperature recorded for the month of May.

Not only developing countries are facing rare and dangerous heat waves, the USA and Western Europe countries are also suffering from the deadly heat. A record heat wave is now spreading across Spain, Portugal, Japan and several states of the US, including Arizona, Nevada and California.

Heat waves bring potentially dangerous levels of smog, which can create serious health problems. Ground-level ozone as a key component of smog forms when pollutants from cars, trucks, industry and naturally-occurring sources are baked by sunlight. Breathing high levels of ozone can aggravate heat-related illnesses possible, especially for the sick, elderly and children.

One more problem is wildfires as extreme heat waves have sparked wildfires in many countries across the globe. Wildfires release a toxic brew of hazardous pollution. Fine particles (PM2.5), which are the main pollutant of concern in smoke, can penetrate deep into the lungs and can lead to a range of health problems. And as the smoke can travel long distances carried by high level winds, hundreds and even thousands of kilometers, people far away from the fire can be almost as severely affected as those close to the fire zone.

So far this year, wildfires have already charred over 2.4 million acres across the US, the National Interagency Fire Center said. That’s about 1 million acres more than usual and the most since 2011. Over past weekend, wildfires in central Portugal killed at least 63 people and injured more than 100 others.

According to the new study published by Nature Climate Changewithout the major reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, up to three in four people will face the threat of dying from heat by 2100. However, even with reductions, one in two people at the end of the century will likely face at least 20 days when extreme heat can kill.

“Our attitude towards the environment has been so reckless that we are running out of good choices for the future,” said Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the study.

“For heat waves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” Mora adds. “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”

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