Heat in Germany: How politics ignore heat deaths

Heat kills – no event demonstrates this more than the heat wave in August 2003. In twelve affected European countries, a total of about 70,000 people died as a result of heat, researchers reported in the Lancet study. According to an estimate by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 9,600 people died in Germany in this “summer of the century”. These are estimates because there is no nationwide monitoring system in Germany that records heat-related deaths.

In France, 15,000 heat-related deaths were recorded in the same year. The peak in deaths in France was higher than in the first wave of corona, according to data from the French statistics agency. The summer of 2003 was one of the deadliest natural disasters in Europe in the past 100 years.

Since then, heat researchers have been monitoring the phenomenon every summer, according to a “Die Zeit” report. RKI estimates that about 490 people died in Berlin in the summer of 2018 due to the effects of the heat. There are no more recent numbers. According to Die Zeit’s calculations, as many as 2,000 people died from heat in 2018 compared to road traffic throughout the year. While regulations would have reduced road fatalities, such rules for dealing with heat were absent.

Heat death is not a diagnosis

This may also be due to the fact that “heat death” is not a standard diagnosis. Officially, no one dies from “heat”, just as smokers do not die from cigarettes but from lung cancer caused by smoking. Dr Natalie Niedens, who works in heat protection at the German Alliance for Climate Change and Health in Berlin, says it is “heat stress” that affects the elderly in particular. The circulatory system of the elderly is no longer effective and they feel less thirsty. In addition, many elderly people do not have anyone who can help them in the heat.

Pre-illness, pregnant women, infants and young children as well as homeless people are also affected by the deadly danger of heat. “The risk increases when the 30-degree threshold is crossed for several days in a row and heat waves determine the weather,” physiologist Hans Christian Junga told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. There is no cooling at night either. There are often tropical nights with degrees of 20 degrees and more.

The range of health effects of heat is wide. According to Niedens, they range from dizziness and fatigue to swollen feet and, in extreme cases, death. In periods of extreme heat, the risk of heart attack or kidney damage also increases – excessive sweating and often poor water and electrolyte intake lead to this.

Expect more hot days due to climate change

The problem is likely to get worse, not only because there will be more hot days in the future due to climate change, but also because Germans are getting older, time sums up. The federal government projects up to 8,500 additional heat-related deaths annually by the end of the century. Germany’s Federal Environment Agency predicts that “the future heat-related death rate can be expected to increase by 1 to 6 percent for every degree Celsius increase in temperature. This will correspond to more than 5,000 additional heat-related deaths each year by the middle of this century.”

In 2017, 14 years after the “Summer of the Century”, the Federal Ministry of the Environment and the Federal States made “Recommendations for the preparation of heat action plans to protect human health”. It states, among other things, that the statewide central coordinating office should support municipalities and counties in developing heat protection plans. All authorities, emergency services, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as kindergartens and schools must use the German weather service’s heat alert system. In addition, schedules should be established on how to warn residents.

Action recommendations are seldom followed

As Zeit’s research shows: Action recommendations are rarely followed. All federal states and 400 counties nationwide have been surveyed. About 80 percent of the 299 districts that answered questions at the time did not develop a heat protection concept or heat action plans. 90% of the departments that responded were not even able to determine the number of people at risk in their area on very hot days. With the exception of North Rhine-Westphalia, no state has established a Central Coordination Office, as agreed in 2017.

Almost every fifth circle admitted the question of timeAnd the Not receiving DWD heat warnings. And only North Rhine-Westphalia calculated for 2018 that “6.9 million people were exposed to extremely inadequate heat stress (heat)”. All other countries responded that no such data was collected.

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