The IPCC predicts 420 million people worldwide will be exposed to extreme heat and heatwaves in the near future.
Hundreds of thousands of people die from preventable heat-related causes each year, while temperature extremes and wildfires devastate lives and livelihoods.
ALNAP’s Heatwaves: essential lessons for humanitarian responders begins with actions that organisations can take in the immediate period and move to longer-term considerations to anticipate future heatwaves. These lessons are drawn from ALNAP’s 2021 paper Adapting humanitarian action to the effects of climate change.
Summary of lessons learned
- At-risk groups include older people, children, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and people with cardiovascular or pulmonary disorder
- Those in poverty are also particularly vulnerable
- Use targeted outreach strategies (billboards, mobile messaging services, media alerts) to warn vulnerable groups and communicate key messages
- Informal workers and those who work outside, such as street cleaners and vendors, are at heightened risk from extreme daytime temperatures
- People living in informal settlements (slums) and migrant camps often have reduced access to water and reliable energy sources, making it difficult to resist heat stress
- Install drinking water stations and reliable shelters from the heat
- Work with employers and relevant organisations (eg local governments, the construction industry) to provide water and shade for outdoor workers
- Some groups - especially in urban areas - are more vulnerable to the effects of heatwaves because of insecure livelihoods, poor living conditions and inadequate access to medical care
- Humanitarian actors can play a role in encouraging governments to expand social safety nets to these groups to cover public healthcare and compensate for lost earnings
- Humanitarian organisations should develop their understanding of how extreme heat disrupts livelihoods, and so the ability of affected communities to meet their basic needs
- Consider the ways extreme heat affects livestock and fisheries, as well as supply chains, especially of perishable goods
- Indoor air conditioning, while effective in the short term, is unsustainable
- Air conditioning is also unaffordable for the most vulnerable groups. Reliance on air conditioning places vulnerable people at risk from energy supply failure during heatwaves
- Even lower-energy solutions, such as electric fans, increase the cumulative risk of energy supply failure when the system is under stress during heatwaves. Energy blackouts have a knock on effect on critical infrastructure, such as healthcare
- As extreme heat becomes more common it requires a shift from ad hoc responses to strategic planning. Long-term heatwave planning should be embedded in programmes.
- Map the effects of heatwaves on behaviour and migration trends to support better informed future planning
- Involving communities in the development stage gives significantly better outcomes, and engaging communities in the programme itself can lead to vital behaviour changes
‘Heatwaves are amongst the deadliest natural hazards [and] heat is a rapidly growing health risk’.