MADRID – The worst heat wave in 20 years in June in Spain has resulted in the death of nearly 700 Spaniards. This is evident from the latest report on excess mortality, prepared by the MoMo monitoring system of the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid.
From June 24 to 27, 714 deaths can be attributed to excess heat. Also, the report on excess mortality due to temperature in the week before the heat wave, on June 14, recorded 71 deaths due to high temperatures.
This implies that the arrival of the heat wave has led to a 100% increase in the number of deaths caused by the rise in temperature. Furthermore, in that week alone, the number of deaths from the heat was 643.
Deaths due to weather influences
According to MoMo, there were 711 deaths in January this year as a result of weather influences. This shows that even the bad weather in January causes less excess mortality than the very early heat wave that ravaged the country with temperatures above 40 degrees in mid-June. These are temperatures that are ‘more normal’ for the Spanish summer months of July and August.
Healthcare professionals in health centres witnessed the impact of the heat wave on the health of citizens. Moreover, the elderly were again the hardest hit. With the increased electricity costs, many chose not to even turn on the air conditioning.
Consequences of the heatwave
Most affected were those who had no means of cooling their homes or were not properly hydrated. General practitioner Lorenzo Armenteros, a member of the Spanish Association of General Practitioners and General Practitioners (SEMG), explained to Vozpópuli that the two main consequences of the heat wave are the exacerbation of chronic conditions and problems caused by the dehydration.
“We have witnessed several cases of decompensation of chronic pathologies such as hypertension and diabetes. But it is not the only thing. Something as common as drinking water can have serious consequences if not done correctly during such a big heat wave”.
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For example, Armenteros warns of the risk of kidney damage or dehydration that “affects especially vulnerable people. The lack of water causes metabolic imbalances that can be very serious in the elderly.”
Deaths by Autonomous Region
The effects of the heat wave were felt much more intensely in some regions than in others. This is also reflected in the ISCIII mortality rates. Ranked from highest to lowest, these are the autonomous communities where the June heat resulted in deaths:
- Madrid: 208
- Castile and Leon: 111
- Castile-La Mancha: 85
- Andalucia: 82
- Aragon: 63
- Extremadura: 43
- Catalonia: 33
- Basque Country:29
- Navarre: 23
- Valencian Community: 15
- Galicia: 13
- La Rioja: 8
- Asturias: 2
As can be seen, people in centrally located regions of the country are particularly affected. In peripheral areas or areas with access to the sea, the situation is more manageable.
Doubling the chance of heat waves
Meteorologists and climate experts worldwide are warning about these and other effects of climate change. Heat waves will occur much more often and also earlier in the year, with all the associated consequences. Climate change even doubles the chance of heat waves occurring. In the past two decades, 157,000 people worldwide have died as a result of extreme temperatures.
Society insufficiently prepared
Despite warnings and increasingly accurate weather systems, “society is unprepared for events that were historically so improbable.” So say the authors in the study ‘Extreme impacts of climate change’ from the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and Victoria University of Wellington. “We are especially vulnerable to these kinds of extreme events and the likelihood of them occurring is now more likely,” they continue.