Extreme Heat Waves Kill Hundreds — And It Might Be Just The Beginning

Photo: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images.
It’s impossible to ignore scorching hot summer days, whether you spend them hiding inside a heavily air-conditioned building or camped out in front of a window fan. The terrible heat wave that has blanketed Pakistan is a worst-case scenario for extreme weather, and, according to a new study, deadly temperatures and climate change will affect billions of people worldwide, including close to home.

After weeks of temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the death toll in Pakistan is approaching 800 people in the city of Karachi alone, according to The New York Times. And although rain is expected to break the heat soon, thousands of residents have already needed care for heatstroke and dehydration. The heat has been especially devastating because it has overlapped with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is observed through daylight fasts that even prohibit the drinking of water.

Pakistan isn't the only country dealing with extreme heat; more than 1,700 people died in India during a heat wave last month, and every year extreme heat in major European and North American cities kill elderly and poor residents. A new report published this week by the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet estimates that an extra 3 billion elderly people will be forced to contend with heatwaves by 2100, as compared to 1990.

These problems aren't just hitting Asia; California is grappling with a historic drought, and severe storms have moved through states in the Midwest and Northeast. When Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in New York, many elderly people were trapped in their apartments with no lights, no heat, and no food.

“The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms," the report said. Natural disasters already cause the poorest populations more harm than wealthier countries, which means women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities have an increased likelihood of suffering the indirect effects of climate change, which include "adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health.”

Without action, climate change won't just wipe out animals and plants; many of the biggest gains in global public health could disappear — and now is the time to do something to stop that slide. "Tackling climate change," the report's authors said, "could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century."
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