It is well established that the world is getting hotter. According to NASA, the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. Some places on the planet are experiencing extreme heat with weather that is not conducive to human habitation. Erica Fleishman, director of Oregon State University’s Oregon Climate Change Research Institute says that “It is becoming warmer during the summer and heat waves are more frequent, they are of greater magnitude and they are lasting longer.”
Such extreme heat conditions, aside from being uncomfortable, endanger the health of human beings, especially infants, the elderly, athletes, and outdoor workers. Heat stroke, caused by the body overheating is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated. Over the past 30 years, extreme heat exposure has been the deadliest of all weather phenomena. It kills more than hurricanes and floods combined according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Pacific Northwest of America has been in the grip of a historic heat wave with temperatures in Portland reaching 44.4 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit). In British Columbia, Canada temperatures reached 46.1 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Both real-world observations and climate modelling show sub-Saharan Africa as a hotspot for heatwave activity,” said Luke Harrington, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.
Agricultural workers in tropical climates are at high risk of heat related illnesses. It’s not just about the temperatures. Combined with high humidity, the heat becomes even more problematic.
But there are innovations that are emerging that mitigate the risks and dangers of sweltering heat.
Cool Walks is an app developed by the Spanish municipality which is a digital tool to find the most shady route in Barcelona. It has been designed for pedestrians to be able to choose between different routes based on what their requirements at the time are. The shady routes may take longer but the summers in Barcelona are becoming hotter. Algorithms are used to model direct sunlight and shade to create routes that are optimal for heat prevention: seeking shady pavements, drinking fountains or places to take shelter.
Abu Dhabi-based start-up FortyGuard aims to mitigate the effects of extreme heat on cities. The company is applying coating to surfaces to reduce the temperature of the surrounding air during the summer months. Roads which can reach temperatures of 80 degrees Celsius, are among the surfaces being treated. The project is backed by Hub71 (a tech ecosystem). “FortyGuard is more of an urban cooling system that uses city data to mitigate expanding heat,” says Jihad Sadiq, the founder and director general of the company. According to market research company Statista the surface coating market in the Middle East was estimated at $9.89 billion in 2019.
Cities have been adopting temporary solutions such as cooling centres. These are public spaces that those who don’t have access to air-conditioning and other cooling mechanisms can utilise to escape the heat. Pets are also vulnerable to the heat and are welcome in these spaces. Libraries, malls, splash pads and pools are being allocated to deal with the health effects of the heat waves.
Climate migration refers to groups of people who leave their home countries or cities to seek refuge in places with more favourable weather conditions. Excessive heat and its repercussions are becoming unbearable for many who are choosing to relocate to cooler climates. In the US, 20 million people are under heat alerts as scorching temperatures bring drought, water restrictions and wildfire. Many say they’ve had enough and are choosing to move.
As temperatures continue to rise, the worst hit will be densely populated cities around the world. We are likely to see increased climate migration away from the hottest parts of the planet, leading to more densely populated areas. Today’s children may one day have to live in a world where it is no longer possible to be outdoors between 10am and 4pm, a world where there is an increase in night time activities.
By Faeeza Khan
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Image credit: Ant Rozetsky