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Heat waves' toll on humans

Heat is plaguing the world. North America, Europe, and Asia are facing intense, seemingly endless, heat waves. Temperatures in Phoenix have reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 19 consecutive days, breaking a 49-year-old record (“Phoenix Breaks Record”). In Europe, parts of Spain and Greece could reach 111 degrees, and Italy could reach a staggering 118 degrees (“Heat Wave Hits Europe”). In Beijing, temperatures have surpassed 95 degrees 27 times—another record-breaking statistic—just this year. In the Middle East, the heat index at the Persian Gulf International Airport reached 152 degrees (“Phoenix Breaks Record”).

Fan running

So, what is the human toll of heat waves like the one we are concerned with now? Well, heat waves can induce heat stress, heat stroke, cramps, dehydration, and even death (CDC). In fact, from 1998 to 2017, more than 166,000 people died of heat-related issues (WHO). Last summer, an estimated 61,000 people died from the European heat wave—a toll reaching almost that of the European heat wave of 2003 where 70,000 people died (Nature). In the US, there are approximately 70,000 ER visits, 9000 hospitalizations, and 900 deaths each year due to heat (CDC). The toll is significant and growing.

As heat waves intensify, there will be a greater strain on emergency rooms and services, energy systems that keep us cool, and food. And, to make matters worse, a growing number of people are being exposed to heat waves, including 125 million more people between 2000 and 2016 (WHO). Governments will need to take more steps to address heat exposure, such as by establishing early warning systems, constructing urban cooling centers and green roofs, painting surfaces with reflective material, and planting more vegetation (EPA; “Heat Wave Hits Europe”).

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