The heat is on: Study of related deaths now vital

Friday, July 20, 2018

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Mr Glenroy Brown, climatologist at the Met Service in Jamaica, made a very interesting point in his interview with this newspaper published yesterday.

Mr Brown noted that here in the Caribbean we have grown to accept high temperatures because of the region's geographic location — in the tropics. As such, the suggestion in his argument was that people in this region don't normally think about heat-related illnesses.

However, temperature spikes over recent years have led to “an increase in heat stress that leads to mortality”, he said. As a result, the Met Service, The University of the West Indies, and the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology are about to conduct research into the effects of heat stress on mortality rates in the Caribbean.

There already exists a lot of data on this issue. Last year, for instance, scientists, led by University of Hawaii geography professor Camilo Mora, reported that the risk of heat-related illnesses or death has been climbing steadily since 1980, with approximately 30 per cent of the world's population now living in climatic conditions that deliver deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year.

In April this year, Science News magazine reminded readers that the 2003 heat wave in Europe left more than 70,000 people dead, almost 20,000 of them, mostly elderly, in France.

“In 2010, Russia lost at least 10,000 residents to heat. India, in 2015, reported more than 2,500 heat-related deaths,” the magazine also reported.

Heat-related deaths are not unfamiliar in North America, where temperatures have been steadily rising each summer, especially this year. In fact, this week we learnt that just under 90 people across Quebec, Canada, died when temperatures spiked as high as 35.3C (95.54F) during the first week of July.

Given that the elderly, in particular, are at greatest risk of heat-related illness, there is, we believe, value in the research of which Mr Brown spoke.

In fact, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has reported that, over the next 20 years, the number of older people in the Caribbean will double, which corresponded to 13 per cent of the population in 2015, or the equivalent of 22 per cent, in 2035.

The forecast for higher temperatures over the next few months suggests that all of us, especially those who care for the elderly, need to ensure that we limit our exposure to heat.

We accept that the temperature will fluctuate over seasons, but the effects of climate change will not, we expect, give the Earth much relief from extreme heat. In fact, scientists are already predicting that heat waves will be longer, hotter, and more frequent in the future.

It would do us well, particularly the countries with the largest carbon footprints, to cut greenhouse gas emissions as credible scientific evidence suggests that failure to do so will place approximately three-quarters of the global population under threat of harm.

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