Droughts, heatwaves, fires, tornadoes, glaciers melting. The effects of climate change are becoming starker. In July, a heatwave affected the Iberian peninsula and countries further west. What options are there available to keep oneself cool? Some countries suspend holiday leave for medical staff during heatwaves, while others distribute cooling systems to vulnerable people. Here are some suggestions proposed by the World Economic Forum.
1. Provide heatwave warnings
In places where the temperatures remain low, many people enjoy the hot weather. They might be slow to recognize the risks associated with high temperatures. Better warnings such as Britain’s new heatwave alert system – which issued its first-ever “red alert” ahead of this week’s heatwave – help people gauge the risks and give them time to prepare. Warnings help people make sure they have a working fan, ice, and even consider changing travel plans.
2. Low-cost cooling
In countries not used to heatwaves, few people have air conditioners. For those on limited budgets, even running lots of fans can be expensive. There are many low-energy, low-cost options to reduce heat. Some of them take advantage of the cooling effects of water.
In eastern India, the poorest families use jute sacks soaked in water, arrayed on their tin roofs or hung in doorways, to cool their homes. In the Indian city of Ahmedabad, a pioneering heat action plan triggers a wide range of measures when temperatures rise to worrisome levels. The action plan includes the delivery of water to slum areas where supplies may be unreliable.
In places where it has recently become hot, it is key to plan ahead: water and power supplies are crucial to battle a heatwave. In cities short of water, spray parks can be more a more water-efficient way to cool people than swimming pools.
3. Subsidized alternatives
As global temperatures rise, cooling is being recognized as a service that is as essential for health and safety as winter heating. In New York, city officials have responded to worsening heatwaves by distributing cooling systems to some low-income seniors.
The city also is petitioning the state government to give poorer families financial aid to pay summer utility bills, the same way as some now receive help for winter heat. It is also considering setting a maximum permitted indoor summer temperature for rental properties, as it sets a minimum level for winter.
Berlin is launching a “heat aid” program for its homeless residents. In includes showers, sunscreen and drinks to help keep those living on the streets safe.
4. Make the phone call
The elderly, very young and people with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities can be particularly vulnerable to heat-related health problems. In some Australian cities, Red Cross workers now make calls to vulnerable people on hot days, and dispatch emergency services if they go unanswered. Buenos Aires also reaches out to elderly residents with phone calls and texts when the heat rises.
Heatwaves can affect mental health, particularly if people are unable to sleep. It can lead to an increase in work accidents and domestic violence. Ensuring staff are in place to deal with calls for help can reduce risks, heat specialists say.
In some locations where the temperature reaches very high levels, such as in some Indian cities, holidays for medical staff are suspended during heatwaves. Spanish cities are experimenting with placing ambulances at the beach to handle heat-stroke cases quickly.
5. The cooling effects of light colors and shade
Using light-colored roofing material or painting roofs white can help hold down the heat inside buildings. In Indonesia’s industrial buildings, “cool roofs” are being used to drop indoor temperatures for workers by up to 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit), heat experts say.
In hot South Asian nations like India and Bangladesh, painting roofs white is becoming far more common too, particularly in neighborhoods where many residents struggle to afford air-conditioning or the power bills to run fans.
During the summer Olympics in Tokyo last year, the marathon route was covered in light-colored reflective paint to try to keep temperatures bearable for runners. Los Angeles also has experimented with painting streets white.
Adding canopies to exercise areas and public squares can help people as they go about their daily activities. The same applies to parks with more trees, streets and pathways.
Medellin in Colombia has created a “green corridor” system designed to ensure many residents can get where they’re going on foot or by bicycle largely in natural shade. The city now has 30 green corridors of trees and other vegetation that provide an interconnected 20-km (12-mile) network of shady routes.
Tel Aviv in Israel has installed light-colored fabric sun shades in some of its public areas that can also carry light-weight solar panels. These illuminate the squares at night, making them safer and more attractive to use round-the-clock.