The heat wave that struck Europe in August 2003 is an example of a sanitary disaster that led to adaptation measures on several levels. Almost 15 000 people died in France and about 35 000 died in the rest of Europe. One of the world’s most developed areas was devastated by an exceptional heat wave in two weeks.
Hospitals and health services were overflowing with people. The state was slow to assess the situation and react and communication between the different administrations was poor. The crisis became even more serious because it had not been anticipated. However, even with temperatures 5°C above average for two weeks, it was no hotter in Paris than it normally is during a normal Rio de Janeiro summer!
As a result, the French government set up a “national heat wave plan” the following summer. The authorities made the population aware of the dangers of heat and changed how old people are cared for. Hospital and retirement home care structures have been improved by the installation of ventilation and air conditioning. If government figures are to be believed, this has been beneficial: according to estimates, the milder heat wave France experienced in 2006 would have, without preventive measures, killed 6500 people. It “only” killed 2000 people.
Heat waves are only one example of phenomena that will become more frequent because of global warming. Infectious diseases, droughts and storms will test our societies’ resiliency. Some of these risks have been identified. It is therefore also possible to partly protect oneself. Malaria awareness and prevention campaigns, improved cyclone surveillance and flood prevention are therefore already necessary.