Heat Waves and Human Health: Emerging Evidence and Experience to Inform Risk Management in a Warming World
In the last three decades, the Earth has experienced record hot temperatures, with 2017 the third warmest year in recorded history. Rising temperatures can create deadly conditions for vulnerable populations, especially the elderly, infants and young children, pregnant women, those with chronic health challenges or disabilities, and those who work outside. When combined with other environmental challenges like air and water pollution, heat waves can threaten food security, increase demand for water and energy, and strain public services. The world’s increasingly urbanized populations face specific exposure risks, as pavement and buildings trap and gradually release absorbed thermal energy, creating a phenomenon called the “urban heat island effect”.
This report from the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project examines efforts to better understand and manage the risks of extreme heat on human wellbeing, including the public health burden heat poses and the direct and indirect impacts of heat waves. The report offers a review of available heat early warning systems around the world and recommendations for advancing research to develop tools and climate-resilient systems that are adaptive, contextually appropriate, and can improve the capacity of health professionals and policy makers to safeguard the human health in a warming world.