(CNN) Dangerous record-breaking heat waves will end as the climate crisis intensifies, and will be especially devastating in countries and regions least prepared for them, according to a new study.
The scientists analyzed temperature data sets of more than 60 years, as well as climate models, to calculate the probability of unprecedented extreme heat waves, and where they might occur.
The analysis identified Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and some Central American countries, including Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as “hot spots” of high-risk heat waves.
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According to the report, published Tuesday in the academic journal Nature Communications, these regions are especially vulnerable due to rapid population growth and limited access to health care and energy supplies, which affects their resilience to extreme temperatures.
“There are indications that these regions could experience a major heat wave and not be prepared for it,” says Dann Mitchell, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Bristol, UK and co-author of the study.
A boy in an abandoned boat on what remains of Lake Atescatempa in Guatemala, which dried up due to drought and high temperatures in May 2017. Credit: Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images
The threat facing Afghanistan is especially strong, Mitchell told CNN. Not only is there an unprecedentedly high potential for extreme heat, but the impacts will be intensified by the enormous hardships the country already faces, she said.
Afghanistan is facing serious social and economic problems. In addition, it has a growing population that is increasingly exposed to the problems of scarcity of resources, according to the report.
“When a really extreme heat wave finally hits, a lot of problems are going to happen instantly,” Mitchell said.
Heat waves have a broad negative impact. They reduce air quality, aggravate drought, increase the risk of forest fires and can cause infrastructure to deteriorate.
It also takes a toll on human health, and extreme heat is one of the deadliest natural disasters. Heat stroke or heat exhaustion can trigger a wide range of dangerous symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of consciousness, among others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, causing body temperature to skyrocket within minutes and can cause permanent disability or death.
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Record temperatures have already been recorded in several regions this year. In March, parts of Argentina endured temperatures up to 10°C, or 18°F, above normal, while high-temperature records were broken in large parts of Asia in April.
“Heat waves and other extreme weather events will only get more intense as the world continues to burn fossil fuels,” said Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change, who was not involved in the study.
No place is safe, says the report, according to which between 1959 and 2021 there were “statistically implausible” heat waves, that is, outside the historical norm, in 30% of the evaluated regions. Among them is the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave, which not only broke records for high temperatures, but also skyrocketed, killing hundreds of people.
In Lytton, British Columbia, temperatures peaked at nearly 121 °F (50 °C) in June 2021, breaking the previous record by nearly 5 degrees. A few days later, a forest fire almost completely destroyed the town.
Scientists determined that the event would have been nearly impossible without climate change.
Smoke billows along the Fraser River Valley, near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, on July 2, 2021. A prolonged heat wave sparks dozens of wildfires in Canada’s western provinces. Credit: James MacDonald/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Parts of China, including Beijing, and European countries, such as Germany and Belgium, also face a high risk, according to the report.
The millions of people who live in these densely populated regions could be severely affected by heat waves, although these countries are more likely to have the resources to reduce some of the worst impacts.
The report calls on governments around the world to prepare for heat events beyond current record temperatures, for example by creating cooling centers and reducing hours for those who work outdoors.
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There are many policies that governments can implement to save lives, according to Otto, including “preparing heat wave management plans, ensuring and testing their implementation, informing the public about impending heat waves, and protecting vulnerable people.” to the impacts of heat waves.
Record-breaking heat events are becoming more likely as the world continues to burn fossil fuels, said Lucas Vargas Zeppetello, a Harvard University researcher whose 2022 research revealed that dangerous heat levels will at least triple around the world. the world at the end of the century.
“By definition, we don’t know what could happen if large populations were exposed to unprecedented heat and humidity stress,” Vargas told CNN, “but the heat waves of the last few decades have already been extremely deadly and there are severe reasons for concern for the future”.
The CNN Wire
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