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Monday, December 11, 2023

Europe under deadly hot spell as wildfires displace thousands

Heat waves engulfing western and southern Europe show no sign of abating.

People wash their faces amid hot weather, in Sanliurfa, southeast Turkey, July 16, 2022. Photo credit: IHA Photo

Temperature records are expected to renew in some countries and the scorching sun has claimed hundreds of lives and fueled ferocious wildfires.

Britain’s national weather service (Met Office) has warned that the country may brace for its hottest day on record this week with temperatures tipped to hit a record 40 degrees Celsius at places.

The office has issued its first-ever red warning on extreme heat, reminding the public that the heat poses a risk of serious illness or even danger to life.

The current record high temperature in Britain is 38.7 degrees Celsius recorded in July 2019.

French daily news channel BFMTV on Monday reported that departments in western France remained under an extreme heat warning, with temperatures expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius.

Spain’s health ministry said that 510 people died from heat-related causes in the first week of a heat wave when the mercury reached 45 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country.

The heat is especially affecting the elderly, with 321 of the 510 victims aged 85 or above, 121 aged 75 to 84, and 44 aged 65 to 74.

Meanwhile, the heat wave disturbs living order and production.

Britain’s Met Office alerts the public to the risk of loss of power, water or mobile phone service, as well as traffic delays.

A recent report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre showed that almost half of the EU’s territory and Britain were at risk of drought in July.

Drought conditions and water scarcity are affecting energy production and reducing crop yield.

The rare heat wave and drought also breed devastating wildfires in countries including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

The wildfires raging in south western France since July 12 have destroyed 14,000 hectares of land and displaced 16,200 people.

About 1,700 fire fighters are still trying to put out the fires but the heat wave and strong winds are working against them, BFMTV reported.

Wildfires in Spain have burnt more than 22,000 hectares of woodland and scrub in Spain during the heat wave, local emergency services said.

So to curb the increased risk of severe wildfires, the EU is in talks with manufacturers to buy fire fighting planes, according to media reports.

Climate change is leading to changes in extreme temperatures and in the number of heat waves around the world, said Corinne Le Quere, professor of Climate Change Science at the Britain’s University of East Anglia.

The expert called for more measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for more comfortable temperatures in summer. 

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