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NEWS: New guide helps cities respond to heatwaves

At the High Level Political Forum of the United Nations last week in New York, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre – with the support of a broader consortium of organisations – launched the Heatwave Guide for Cities (2019).

This practical guide is designed with, and for, people working in city government to understand, reduce the risk of, and respond to, heatwaves in their cities. ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, Overseas Development Institute and SouthSouthNorth all reviewed and contributed material to the guide, which was authored by the Climate Centre.

The guide provides information and recommendations for technical staff within city governments – the world over – including:

  • working with partners to understand city-specific heatwave risks;
  • operational approaches to prepare for an imminent heatwave;
  • response strategies to reduce harm to people during a heatwave;
  • and ways to learn from a heatwave that has just ended.

Case studies from cities around the world are included in this guide to highlight effective urban heat adaptation strategies, including early warning systems, climate-sensitive designs and public information campaigns.

In a special foreword to the report, Francisco Rocca, IFRC President, says: “Heatwaves are deadly and their impacts are on the rise globally due to climate change.

“Every year, heatwaves claim the lives of infants, older people, and people with chronic health conditions. The urban poor frequently bear the brunt of this silent emergency.

“But this is not inevitable; it is up to us to prevent this public-health crisis from impacting our neighbours, family members and friends.”

The authors describe how intense and frequent heatwaves are already occurring in many parts of the world. Their frequency and intensity are expected to rise globally due to climate change. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the global temperature record have occurred since 2001. However, deaths from heatwaves are not inevitable and, in fact, they can be greatly reduced through the implementation of relatively simple and cost-effective actions.

This is evidenced by France, for example, where over 18,000 heat-related deaths occurred in a major heatwave in 2003. After that, heat action plans were put in place, involving an alert system, public information campaigns and check-ins with older residents, amongst other activities. Three years later, in 2006, thousands of deaths were avoided due to these measures.

“Cities are on the front lines of this public health emergency and are thus crucial in leading the fight to prevent unnecessary deaths from heat,” says Rocca.

The example of France shows that cities can rise to the challenge of coping with more frequent and extreme heatwaves – argue the authors. Cities have a unique potential to adapt to changing heat risks through effective risk management at multiple levels within a city; connecting policies and incentives; and strengthening community adaptation capacity.

All of these facets make it extremely important for cities to undertake heat-related risk analyses and to devise plans for reducing and managing risks.

Read the guide here.

Photo: courtesy German Red Cross

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