Southern Europe grapples with record heatwaves and wildfires

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18th June 2024 – (Athens) Last week, cities across Southern Europe, including Greece and Cyprus, experienced unprecedented temperatures exceeding 40C, as hot air currents from North Africa intensified the heat. This has led to a series of catastrophic events ranging from deadly heatwaves to rampant wildfires, particularly affecting Türkiye.

The scorching heat has prompted the closure of key tourist attractions and educational institutions, with health advisories issued to mitigate the impact on the populace. In Greece, the iconic Acropolis was temporarily shut down, and emergency medical services were ramped up across Athens to handle heat-related illnesses. Unfortunately, the relentless heat has claimed lives, including tourists, with reports of fatalities involving a well-known UK television personality among others.

Meteorologists are viewing this as just a precursor to potentially more severe weather conditions expected later this summer. Such early onset of intense heatwaves marks a disturbing trend, with historical data indicating a significant shift in climatic patterns.

In Cyprus, the situation is equally grim, with the government issuing its first red alert of the season after temperatures soared to 45C, shattering previous records for June. The extreme weather has not only endangered lives but also strained the healthcare system with numerous cases of heatstroke and exhaustion. The elderly population has been particularly vulnerable, with fatalities and several hospital admissions.

Moreover, the heat has exacerbated drought conditions, severely impacting agriculture and increasing the risk of wildfires. Firefighters have been tirelessly battling blazes that have devoured extensive areas of forest, prompting evacuations and international cooperation in firefighting efforts.

Across the Aegean, Türkiye has also been wrestling with similar challenges. The country faced extreme temperatures well above seasonal averages, complicating the situation with high humidity levels. This has triggered widespread warnings, advising vulnerable groups to avoid prolonged exposure to the heat. Concurrently, wildfires have been a persistent threat, mobilising a significant response to prevent further damage and loss of life.

Italy is not spared either, with meteorological reports indicating an early onset of heatwaves this June, bringing temperatures that are significantly higher than historical averages. This series of extreme weather events underscores a troubling trend affecting the Mediterranean region, prompting urgent calls for enhanced measures to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change. These conditions not only disrupt daily life but also pose significant threats to the environment, public health, and local economies, necessitating a robust response from governments and international bodies alike.