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Millions suffer from extreme heat in three continents

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DEADLY HEAT. A person rests at the First Congregational United Church of Christ shelter in Phoenix, Arizona. The church opened its doors, providing water, food, and refreshments for residents seeking relief from the heat. Temperature forecasts for Europe and the Mediterranean (inset) showed the world is on track for its hottest July since measurements began, the European Union’s climate observatory said. AFP

Millions suffered through intense heat Wednesday as fires raged, health worries mounted and the world appeared headed for its hottest month of July on record.

As temperature records tumbled on three continents, experts pointed the finger at climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels, saying global warming had a key role in destructive weather.

Governments and the World Health Organization issued warnings as vulnerable parts of the population suffered.

In Greece, two forest fires, fanned by strong winds, were raging to the west of Athens, and another on the tourist island of Rhodes where residents had to decide whether to flee.

“I am not leaving. I started building this house when I was 27 years old by myself,” said Dimitris Michaelous, a resident in the fire-threatened town of Pournari.

Greece’s firefighters said Romania, Slovakia and Poland would send some 230 firefighters to help it tackle the blazes.

Polish fire services said 149 firefighters were on their way to Greece — 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) away — aboard 49 vehicles.

France recorded temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the country’s south, including on the Mediterranean holiday island Corsica.

Beijing broke a 23-year-old record with 27 consecutive days of temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius.

‘My skin is burning’

“At noon, it feels like the sun is roasting my legs, it feels like my skin is burning,” said Qiu Yichong, a 22-year-old student.

Han Weili, a delivery driver, said: “Sometimes when it is very hot, I feel a little confused or dizzy.”

The Beijing government urged the elderly to stay indoors and children to shorten outdoor playtime to reduce exposure to the heat and ground-level ozone pollution.

People were cranking up air conditioning, leading to a surge in energy demand.

The World Health Organization said the extreme heat was straining health care systems, hitting older people, infants and children.

The WHO said it was particularly concerned about people with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma.

In the Canary Islands, some 400 firefighters battled a blaze that has ravaged 3,500 hectares of forest and forced 4,000 residents to evacuate, with authorities warning people to wear face masks outside due to poor air quality.

Temperatures were also ferocious in other parts of Spain, with three regions on red alert.

Coastal waters around Spain have hit a record high temperature for this time of the year, the national weather office said Wednesday.

The Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily have been forecast to possibly surpass a continent-wide record of 48.8C recorded in Sicily in August 2021.

At Lanusei, near Sardinia’s eastern coast, a children’s summer camp was restricting beach visits to the early morning and banning sports, teacher Morgana Cucca said.

‘Better at the beach’

Many throughout Italy sought escape by the sea, including outside Rome, where the heat hit 40C.

“You can at least get a little wind from the sea,” said Virginia Cesario, 30, at the Focene beach near the capital.

“This has become the new normal,” said Fabrizio Carozza, a 26-year-old office employee from Belgium.

In North America, meanwhile, tens of millions of people woke up to another scorcher Wednesday, having experienced dangerous heat the previous day.

‘Running out of ways’

In the town of San Angelo, Texas, where temperatures were expected to reach 108F (42C), the National Weather Service said it was “running out of ways to say that it’s gonna be hot out there today.”

“We implore you to continue to practice heat safety,” the agency said on Twitter.

And in Arizona, the mercury at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport again reached 110F on Tuesday, breaking the previous record of 18 consecutive days at or above that temperature, set in 1974.

Even Iraq, used to average July temperatures of around 32C, found it hard to cope with the heat surge, prompting the mayor of Basrah in the south to give civil servants a day off Thursday when 50C or more is forecast.

The world is on track for its hottest July since measurements began, the European Union’s climate observatory said Wednesday.

“The first 15 days of July have been the warmest 15 days on record,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service(C3S).

The heat waves across Europe and the globe are “not one single phenomenon but several acting at the same time”, said Robert Vautard, director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace climate institute.

“But they are all strengthened by one factor: climate change.”

‘Climate-change hot spot’

Struck by near-record temperatures and wildfires during this week’s heatwave, the Mediterranean region is ranked as a climate-change “hot spot” by scientists.

The beaches, seafood and heritage sites in the region spanning parts of southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia are under threat.

Here are five key threats to the region flagged by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its reports are the most comprehensive summary of scientific knowledge on global warming. 

Deadly heat waves

Like parts of the United States and Asia, the Med has been hit by extreme heat in recent weeks. The Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily are forecast to possibly top a continent-wide record of 48.8C (119.8F).

“Heatwaves are increasing due to climate change in the Mediterranean, and are amplified in cities due to urbanisation practices,” causing illness and death, the IPCC said in its 2022 report on impacts of climate change and how to adapt to them.

One study published in 2010 led by scientists at the University of Bern calculated that the intensity, length and number of heatwaves in the eastern Mediterranean had increased by about six or seven times since the 1960s.

Wheat and olives

A drought in North Africa has left farmers bracing for a terrible harvest. “We’ve never seen a drought this bad,” Tunisian wheat farmer Tahar Chaouachi said. “It’s been dry for the last four years but we expected some rain this season. Instead, it’s become worse.”

With hotter weather drying up groundwater for irrigating farms, the IPCC said that with global warming of more than 1.5C olive yields could fall by a fifth in the northern Mediterranean. The world has warmed more than 1.1C since the 19th century.

Researchers at Stanford University found “the Mediterranean experiencing significant adverse impacts on most crops.”

Water and politics

A drought in Spain has raised political tensions over water management ahead of a general election on July 23. The European Drought Observatory said groundwater tables across half the Mediterranean region were running low already in June.

The IPCC report warned climate change will worsen water shortages “in most locations” in the region. Lakes and reservoirs are expected to decline by up to 45 percent this century, and surface water availability by up to 55 percent in North Africa.

Meanwhile “terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are impacted by climate change in the Mediterranean, resulting in loss of habitats and biodiversity,” it added.

Rising seas

The sea level in the Mediterranean basin has risen 2.8mm a year over recent decades, threatening shorelines and cities such as Venice, which regularly suffers tidal floods.

“Sea level rise already impacts extreme coastal waters around the Mediterranean and it is projected to increase coastal flooding, erosion and salinization risks,” said the IPCC.

“These impacts would affect agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, urban development, port operations, tourism, cultural sites and many coastal ecosystems.”

Invasive species

As well as its cherished beaches, climate change threatens the Mediterranean sea and the food produced by its fisheries.

“A shift in Mediterranean marine ecosystems, characterized by biodiversity decline and invasive species, has occurred since the 1980s” due to climate change and other human impacts, the IPCC said.

With global warming of more than 1.5C, more than 20 percent of exploited fish and invertebrates in the Eastern Mediterranean could become locally extinct by 2060 and fishing revenues could decrease up to 30 percent by 2050, it said. AFP

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