Heat Waves Demand Humanitarian, Local Response

With extreme heat waves already killing thousands every year and posing huge challenges to sustainable development, the United Nations and the International Red Cross stated that heat waves demanded a humanitarian response that is locally grounded.

In the latest report Extreme Heat, Preparing For Heatwaves Of The Future,  they said that the world needs a quick humanitarian response that acts quickly on the basis of data and analysis, and that works in partnerships with local governments, civil society and development actors to protect the most vulnerable people.

In their joint report, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said “ This is not a problem that humanitarian organizations can solve alone. The urgent priority must be large and sustained investments that mitigate climate change and support long-term adaptation for the most vulnerable people. Without those investments, we are destined for a future of ever larger and deadlier heat disasters.”


The report mentions about the European heat wave of 2003 that was responsible for more than 70,000 excess deaths and the Russian heatwave of 2010 that killed over 55,000 people. 

UN’s emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths said “without immediate financial help for the most vulnerable communities, the world faces a future of “ever larger and deadlier heat disasters,” he said at the launch of the report.

“Indeed, almost everywhere that reliable data is available, heat waves are the deadliest weather-related hazard. The dangers posed by extreme heat are growing at an alarming rate due to climate change,” the report noted.


The report states that developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America experienced severe heat-related emergencies in recent years than experienced in rich countries. It mentioned that the impacts of extreme heat are hugely unequal in both social and geographic terms. “In a heatwave, the most vulnerable and marginalized people, including casual labourers, agricultural workers, and mi-grants, are pushed to the front lines. The elderly, children, and pregnant and breast-feeding women are at higher risk of illness  and death associated with high ambient temperatures. There is compelling evidence that the world’s lowest-income countries — those least responsible for climate change – are already experiencing disproportionate increases in extreme heat,”

Moreover, the report points out that the combined effects of warming, ageing and urbanisation would cause significant increase in the number of at-risk people in developing countries in the coming decades.

Although the world’s richer nations are better-equipped to protect themselves from furnace-like temperatures in coming years, this is not true for developing countries, where the combined effects of “warming, ageing and urbanization” are expected to hit hard, in line with the Sixth Assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


On current trajectories, the report said that the world would see large-scale suffering and loss of life, population movements and entrenched inequality.

Cities are at the epicentre of vulnerability to heat waves. Informal and off-grid settlements, which share many characteristics with camps in humanitarian settings, are at particularly high risk. Analysts project a 700 per cent global increase in the number of urban poor people living in extreme-heat conditions by the 2050s. The largest in-creases are expected in West Africa and South-East Asia.

“Extreme heat will also increasingly undermine agriculture and livestock systems, degrade natural resources, damage infra-structure and contribute to migration. The International Labour Organization projects that economic losses related to heat stress will rise from US$280 billion in 1995 to $2.4 trillion in 2030, with lower-income countries seeing the biggest losses,”  the report said.


In the report, the UN and IFRC said that large and targeted investments in adapting to extreme heat and protecting the most vulnerable people should be an urgent priority. Heat waves should not be approached primarily as a humanitarian issue, but there can be no escaping the need to prepare for more and larger heat-Related emergency responses in the future, the report stated. . Heat waves can be reliably forecast in most places, and early actions are effective and relatively low cost.

Moreover, the report mentioned that rushing international assistance to a disaster was neither desirable nor effective in responding to heat waves. Further, it said that responses should be embedded in and driven by the affected communities themselves.  “International humanitarian actors should aim to support,rather than substitute, local responses. To play this role, these actors need to build new partnerships with local governments and development partners, increase their engagement in urban environments, invest in preparedness and risk reduction, adapt existing programming, and expand the use of forecasting and anticipatory action,” they said.


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