C1.2.4 The European heatwave 2003: health impacts and adaptation (Chapter 8, Box 8.1)
In August 2003, a heatwave in France caused more than 14,800 deaths (Figure C1.2). Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK all reported excess mortality during the heatwave period, with total deaths in the range of 35,000 (Hemon and Jougla, 2004; Martinez-Navarro et al., 2004; Michelozzi et al., 2004; Vandentorren et al., 2004; Conti et al., 2005; Grize et al., 2005; Johnson et al., 2005). In France, around 60% of the heatwave deaths occurred in persons aged 75 and over (Hemon and Jougla, 2004). Other harmful exposures were also caused or exacerbated by the extreme weather, such as outdoor air pollutants (tropospheric ozone and particulate matter) (EEA, 2003), and pollution from forest fires.
Figure C1.2. (a) The distribution of excess mortality in France from 1 to 15 August 2003, by region, compared with the previous three years (INVS, 2003); (b) the increase in daily mortality in Paris during the heatwave in early August (Vandentorren and Empereur-Bissonnet, 2005).
A French parliamentary inquiry concluded that the health impact was ‘unforeseen’, surveillance for heatwave deaths was inadequate, and the limited public-health response was due to a lack of experts, limited strength of public-health agencies, and poor exchange of information between public organisations (Lagadec, 2004; Sénat, 2004).
In 2004, the French authorities implemented local and national action plans that included heat health-warning systems, health and environmental surveillance, re-evaluation of care of the elderly, and structural improvements to residential institutions (such as adding a cool room) (Laaidi et al., 2004; Michelon et al., 2005). Across Europe, many other governments (local and national) have implemented heat health-prevention plans (Michelozzi et al., 2005; WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2006).
Since the observed higher frequency of heatwaves is likely to have occurred due to human influence on the climate system (Hegerl et al., 2007), the excess deaths of the 2003 heatwave in Europe are likely to be linked to climate change.