The down side of heatwaves

Beach in a heatwave

Hot weather in the UK matters; in the ten-day August 2003 heatwave, it is estimated that there were 2,000 deaths caused by the hot weather in the UK, and an estimated 70,000 across Europe.

Due to climate change, UK heatwaves are expected to become more frequent. Owing to its location and size, London is particularly vulnerable. Older people, infants and babies, people with physical or mental disabilities, people with long-term illnesses, people who misuse alcohol or drugs and isolated people are all more vulnerable during heatwaves. These people in particular can start to experience difficulties, such as dehydration which can lead to cardiac and respiratory problems, at temperatures as low as 25 degree Celsius (just when many people are celebrating the warm weather). For these groups it is important to drink lots of water, try to stay in a cool place, seek advice if needed (from a GP or NHS 111), and check on friends, family and neighbours who might be susceptible to heat related health issues.

Urban Heat

Our research project, Urban Heat, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looks at UK heatwaves in urban areas and shows that there are comprehensive local and national heatwave plans in place. At the same time, our research indicates that there is untapped potential for public bodies to work with local community groups. Voluntary and community sector organisations have a lot to offer during heatwaves because they are in contact with ‘vulnerable’ people day in and day out.
Planning for heatwaves does not receive as much attention as preparing for cold weather and floods, and appears in neither building regulations nor urban planning guidance. Since the Met Office predicts that heatwaves will become more frequent in the future, it is important to begin addressing these challenges now.

Authors

Dr Kevin Burchell and Ben-Fagan-Watson, Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster

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