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Heat waves will leave entire areas uninhabitable within decades: UN, Red Cross

Heat waves will become so extreme in certain parts of the world in decades that human life will be unsustainable, the United Nations and the Red Cross declared on Monday.

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Heat waves are expected to “transcend human physiological and social limitations” in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and South-West Asia, with extreme events triggering “massive suffering and loss of life,” the organizations said.

The heatwave disasters this year in countries such as Somalia and Pakistan foreshadow a future with more deadly, frequent, and intense heat-related humanitarian emergencies, they warned in a joint report.

The report was published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in advance of next month’s UN’s COP27 climate change summit in Egypt.

They said strong action should be taken immediately to avoid potentially recurrent heat disasters, listing measures that could mitigate the worst effects of extreme heat.

‘There are clear boundaries beyond which individuals exposed to extreme heat and humidity cannot survive,’ the report said.

It is also likely that there will be extreme heat levels above which societies may find it almost impossible to provide effective adaptation for all.

“On current trajectories, heat waves could reach and exceed these physiological and social limits in the coming decades, including in regions such as the Sahel and South and Southwest Asia.”

It warned that the impact of this would be “large-scale suffering and casualties, population movements and deeper inequality.”

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The combined effects of ageing, warming, and urbanization would result in a significant increase in the number of people at risk in developing countries over the next few decades.

“Projected mortality rates due to extreme heat are incredibly high, comparable in magnitude by the end of the century to all cancers or all infectious diseases — and staggeringly unequal,” the report said.

Agricultural workers, children, the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women are more at risk of disease and death, according to the report.

“While the climate crisis is unchecked, extreme weather events like heat waves and floods are hitting the most vulnerable harder,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Chief Humanitarian Assistance Officer. ”

“Nowhere is the impact more brutal than in countries already plagued by hunger, conflict, and poverty.”

IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain urged countries at COP27 to invest in climate change adaptation and mitigation in areas of greatest risk.

OCHA and the International Federation suggested five key steps to help combat the impact of extreme heat waves, including providing early information to help people and authorities react in a timely manner, and finding new ways to finance action at the local level.

They also included humanitarian organisations testing more “heat-adapted” emergency shelters and “cooling centres”, while encouraging communities to change their development planning to take account of the likely impacts of extreme heat.

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