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Posts Tagged ‘heatwave’

It was late July 2003 in the city of Auxerre in Burgundy. Authorities had been warning of very high temperatures for August, exceeding 40ºC during the day and no less than 20ºC at night.

M. Collardelle is in his early seventies. He is a healthy person with no more ailments than the usual for his age. He lives downtown, not far from the river, in a two storey-house with a nice small garden around it. With that setting, M. Collardelle does not worry about temperatures; he knows that the river and the garden will make life a lot more pleasant for him than for those who live in apartment houses on the outskirts of the city.

He had just received a telephone call from his only child who is vacationing in Spain with her husband and kids. They had a nice conversation and, to reassure his daughter, he reminded her that he had fought in the Algerian War, where he had endured much more than those forecasted 40ºC. They said goodbye, with M Collardelle telling his daughter not to call again. They would be back in France on the 15th.

So, the first of August arrived and with it, the dreaded 40ºC. And the second was the same and so forth and so on; and M. Collardelle realized that he was not in his twenties but some 45 years older, and he could not cope with the heat. He just sat in his armchair, with the windows open in hope of some respite, but what came from outside was more heat. He didn’t even have the energy to go to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

The 15th of August his daughter rang the bell, and as there was no answer, she opened the door and found her lifeless father in his beloved armchair. M. Collardelle had joined the more than 70.000 people who died from the heat wave that summer. 70.000 dead that would never have occurred if proper measures had been in place.

Hazards become real risks when the flow of early-warning-surveillance-preparedness- reaction breaks down for some reason. In the case at hand, it is clear that the early-warning system in place was not enough and that the flow never started; no surveillance, preparedness, or reaction were put in place.

Since 2003 things have improved; the European Climate Adaptation Platform[i] is a good example of how much things have changed. Today most countries have Heat-Health Action Plans to ensure that something like that will never happen again. Nevertheless, most plans focus on the activities that institutions at national, regional, and local levels have to carry out in case of an emergency. The diffusion and communication with citizens is mostly one way, from the institution to the public, at most an open line for people to report back, but with no real engagement or tracing whatsoever.

A comprehensive system for preventing a hazard from becoming a real problem is lacking. To start with, most plans are limited to a specific hazard or to a particular respondent. Very rarely is there a comprehensive focus on a situation that, in many cases, involves the occurrence of various simultaneous hazards.

It is also symptomatic that crisis management is only put in place once the crisis has reached a certain level. Those moments, from the occurrence of the event till the recognition by the relevant authorities that the event is in place, are mostly wasted. In fact, there is a lack of co-responsibility on the part of the citizenry in the response to an event.


[i] http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/about accessed 12.07.21

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