Surviving the heat: What strategies are cities adopting to save lives from the sweltering heat?

A boy pours water over his head to cool off at the fountain in Piazza del Popolo in Rome.  AFP/File
A boy pours water over his head to cool off at the fountain in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. AFP/File

As the world faces an alarming rise in temperatures and heatwaves, cities are taking steps to protect their citizens from the looming climate crisis.

The situation is becoming increasingly troubling, with records showing that this year’s rise in temperatures is only the beginning of a worrying trend. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures will continue to rise for the next three decades, even if carbon emissions are reduced immediately. This calls for urgent and innovative measures to deal with the challenging reality of a hotter future.

Cities, where more than half the world’s population lives, have become hotspots of extreme heat due to the “urban heat island” effect. The prevalence of asphalt, cement, glass and steel absorbs and retains heat, making cities up to seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their surrounding suburban and rural areas. The consequences of such rising temperatures are disastrous. The heatwave has already killed hundreds of people, damaged infrastructure and affected workforce productivity, with vulnerable and marginalized communities bearing the brunt of these effects.

To deal with this looming crisis, a pioneering approach has been adopted by some cities, including the appointment of dedicated Chief Heating Officers (CHOs) to design and implement plans to respond to rising temperatures. Miami, Phoenix, Athens, Freetown, Monterrey and Santiago are among the cities that have taken this important step.

CHOs play a key role in identifying the unique challenges faced by each city and devising tailored strategies to address them. For example, Miami’s CHO worked with volunteers and universities to place temperature sensors throughout the city, ensuring accurate readings and enabling residents to prepare for extreme temperatures. The CHO of Athens produced a cooling guidebook with technical recommendations for green spaces and water features to reduce the effects of heat.

Community participation is also a key component of cities’ heat protection plans. Cities like Miami have started training programs for emergency response volunteers to provide first aid to heatstroke victims, thereby empowering citizens to play a vital role in saving lives. In addition, to draw public attention to this invisible but life-threatening phenomenon, trials are being conducted in various cities to raise awareness of the dangers of extreme heat and classify heatwaves.

As cities rise to the challenge, their proactive measures to combat heatwaves offer hope for a better future. By taking quick action, implementing innovative solutions and engaging communities, cities are playing a vital role in protecting their residents from the coming warming.

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