Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

World-first expert forum charts possible ways forward on killer heatwaves

02/01/2019 - by Nicola Ward, Climate Centre, Hong Kong

Amid widespread scientific agreement that with climate change potentially lethal heatwaves are starting earlier and ending later, the first-ever international expert forum convened to find ways to reduce the risk was held in Hong Kong late last month.

It gathered more than 120 climate and health experts from at least 33 countries, and saw the launch of a professional network intended to build the capacity of governments and other agencies to protect populations from extreme heat.

Co-hosted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the University of Hong Kong, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the forum also included the American and German Red Cross (GRC), the Hong Kong branch of the Red Cross Society of China, and the Climate Centre.

It’s now expected the meeting will generate consensus recommendations for both the WHO and the WMO to be adopted later this month, as well as new collaboration and networking openings for interested professionals.

‘The risks: heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion,
cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and death’

Many parts of the world experienced exceptional, prolonged heatwaves and associated wildfires in 2018, said Elena Manaenkova, WMO Deputy Secretary-General, adding that “[h]eat warnings and related weather and climate services are critical to mitigate this risk.”

Candy Yeung, Deputy Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Red Cross (photo), spoke on engaging local communities, and the GRC’s representative in Vietnam – one of the latest National Societies to work on forecast-based financing as a humanitarian operating model – briefed the group on FbF.

Researchers based in Hong Kong – which itself suffered an exceptional heatwave this summer – told the meeting that in densely populated parts of the city, every degree Celsius increase in maximum daytime temperature above a benchmark of just over 28 degrees resulted in nearly a 2 per cent increase in mortality, according to a final press release from the group, who also cited a study showing nearly 160 million more vulnerable people experienced heatwaves in 2017 than in 2000.

The risks, they said, include “heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion, heat-related cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and death.”

A simulation exercise of a catastrophic heat-event with serious casualties, led by the WHO, was designed to prepare government officials and journalists to respond.

A panel at last month’s week’s ‘heat and health’ international expert workshop in Hong Kong. Candy Yeung, Deputy Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Red Cross, is at centre. (Photo: Roop Singh/Climate Centre)