France responds to heatwaves
GENEVA, 24 August 2016 - This week France is responding to its third heatwave of the summer as it seeks to avoid any repetition of the 20,000 deaths which the nation suffered in 2003 when a Europe-wide heatwave claimed 70,000 lives.
Since that catastrophe which was devastating for women and older persons in particular, France has initiated a four-phase alert system as part of its meteorological services.
Yesterday Météo France placed 14 Departments on Orange Alert, phase three. These are Paris, Ile-de-France, Seine-Saint-Denis, Hauts-de-Seine, Val-de-Marne, Essonne, Val-d’Oise, Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Aisne, Ardennes, Aube, Marne, Nord and Yonne.
A heatwave can be declared when elevated temperatures in the range of 31°C to 36 °C are expected over three consecutive days but temperatures approaching 38°C (100°F) are expected in many locations due a large area of high pressure which will bring hot air from Africa.
The head of UNISDR’s Regional Office for Euorpe, Ms. Paola Albrito, said today: “Heatwaves are on the rise worldwide because of climate change and other factors including the urban heat island effect. This comes as no surprise given that 2016 looks set to become the hottest year on record.
“Disaster management has to take adequate account of the twin threats of heatwaves and wildfires and France has developed significant expertise in these areas which helps to reduce loss of life in these circumstances. This week’s Orange Alert and the actions taken by Météo France and the French authorities provide an excellent example of how to apply the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan for reducing mortality and disaster losses. Keeping the public informed is key and having strategies at the local level is vital."
The current Orange Alert means that the heads of the affected Departments implement measures from a crisis management plan which they deem necessary. This involves a range of actions including keeping the general public risk informed, mobilising the local branches of the Red Cross and putting health facilities on alert.
It also includes provision for the most vulnerable including infants and older persons to have access to cooler locations including supermarkets and public buildings benefitting from air conditioning. Regular bulletins are disseminated through broadcast, print and social media advising people to keep cool, drink plenty of water, avoid strenuous activity and stay inside when temperatures are highest. Social services are carrying out regular checks on vulnerable people including older persons living alone.
A Red Alert, phase four, has never been activated since Meteo France introduced the system in 2004. This level of "maximum mobilisation" can only be launched by the Prime Minister on the advice of the Ministers for Health and the Interior.