WHO Calls for Urgent Action as Deaths From Extreme Heat Surge in Europe

With 60,000 deaths in Europe last year due to extreme heat, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official has stressed the "desperate and urgent need" to tackle the climate crisis.

The number of deaths from extreme heat "is set to rise year-on-year", the WHO's Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said on Tuesday.

Current "danger zones" include southern and eastern Europe, Kluge said, urging the public to "regularly check weather reports, follow local guidance, and inform yourself about weather-related health risks from reputable sources", reports Xinhua news agency.

Europe heat wave 2023

"Beyond adapting to our new reality this summer, we must look to the years and decades ahead," he said.

"There is a desperate and urgent need for regional and global action to effectively tackle the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to the human race."

In the long run, Kluge believes that the adoption of the Budapest Declaration, which prioritises urgent, wide-ranging action on health challenges related to climate change, environmental pollution, etc., in the WHO European Region earlier this month, will go a long way toward addressing "the worst impacts of climate change on our health and health systems."

In particular, Kluge believes the declaration will mobilise young people to get involved, "because they are truly engaged on the climate issues they are inheriting and often bursting with ideas and solutions".

"Action on climate change cannot be predicated on a particular government or political party; it truly needs to be a non-partisan issue championed by all sides of the political spectrum," Kluge said.

Acropolis, Athens Wikimedia Commons

The WHO official's remarks come as large swathes of southern Europe continue to swelter in record heat.

As temperatures hit a high of 46.3 degrees Celsius in Sicily, fire crews battled blazes in Greece and the Swiss Alps.

Elsewhere in Europe, crews in Switzerland are battling a wildfire close to the village of Bitsch in canton Valais which authorities said started on Monday afternoon and spread "explosively" overnight.

Another wildfire on the Spanish island of La Palma, which started on July 15, has destroyed 20 homes.

Oregon Wild fire

Red alerts, warning people of a very high health risk due to the intense heat, remain in place for most of Italy, Spain, Greece and parts of the Balkans.

The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was set in August 2021 when the mercury hit 48.8 degrees in the Palermo region of Sicily.