During the pandemic, the heat wave sets in in South-Eastern Europe and the Middle East

During the pandemic, the heat wave sets in in South-Eastern Europe and the Middle East


The month of April broke temperature records, heralding one of the hottest summers on record. But these pessimistic predictions are outweighed by reality. The heat wave we feared after the pandemic episode is already here. In the middle of May, the month of the mild spring sung by Ronsard, South-Eastern Europeans are suffocating, just like the inhabitants of the Near East. In France, throughout the East, drought sets in and threatens. The climatic disruption has made no pause during the confinement.

A few days ago, we alerts in these columns on the abnormal behaviour of thermometers during this early spring. In April, the temperature in metropolitan France was 2.3°C higher than in the last twenty years. These figures point to a particularly hot summer and raise the spectre of a deadly heat wave, while we are not yet out of the pandemic crisis.

Unfortunately, the predictions are coming true, at a fast pace. Already, at this very moment, while they have not yet broken out of their confinement, from Greece to Israel, via Cyprus and Turkey, the countries of south-eastern Europe and the Middle East are suffocating. The inhabitants of these countries, exhausted by the fear of the coronavirus and the confinement measures, are taking the full brunt of this violent wave, once again caused by a disoriented nature.  

Never before seen

Over 40 degrees in Cyprus, Crete (Greece), on the shores of Turkey, and up to 47 degrees on the borders of Israel and Jordan: if this region of the world is used to torrid summers, records have been broken for the month of May, according to national meteorological institutes.

After southern Italy, with 39 degrees in Sicily last weekend, the heat wave reached Heraklion, Crete, with 41.1 degrees on Saturday, the highest in half a century, according to the Athens Meteorological Institute. In mainland Greece, the mercury also approached 40 degrees.

The inhabitants of these countries are used to hot summers and like to cool down on the beaches. In these confined times, this is not always possible. In Greece, the opening of the developed beaches was anticipated because of the heat wave, and the measures put in place: four meters between the parasols in particular, no beverage service at the table .

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Further east, in Cyprus, where beaches are still forbidden - only sea bathing is allowed - 49 people were fined on Sunday for prolonged presence on the fine sand. On the island, a new record was set on Sunday, with 42.5 degrees in the shade in Paphos (south-west). A weather warning remains in force on Monday.

Turkey had its hottest May weekend in 75 years, according to public television station TRT - including a temperature of over 40 degrees in Antalya. Tens of millions of Turks are under strict confinement these days, with the exception of the over-65s, who were able to go out on Sunday according to schedules that have been rearranged because of the heat. In Istanbul, some of them took the opportunity to cool off in the waters of the Bosphorus.

In the Middle East, the heat regularly comes on in late spring. But," this year, the difference is the duration of the episode -one week-, with temperatures up to 37 degrees Celsius.« The head of the meteorology department at Beirut airport, Abdel Rahmane al-Zawawi, said on Sunday. And there, no sea bathing is possible for the Lebanese: all beaches are closed, and security forces ensured on Sunday that the instructions are respected.

Beaches are also theoretically out of reach of bathers in Israel. On Sunday, as the government finally won the confidence of Parliament after more than a year of political crisis, the authorities seemed to look away from Tel Aviv's crowded coastline, where it was also 40 degrees.

Public health risk

The Covid-19 pandemic put hospital services to the test; despite their efforts, more than 300,000 deaths were counted worldwide. The current heat wave, which overlaps with an outbreak that is not yet over, poses an additional risk to public health.

A risk that has been announced and for which those in power will not be able to say that they did not know. Several studies agree to announce the multiplication of intense heat waves coupled with abnormal humidity levels. Researchers have just published a post alarming in Science Advances. They found that the number of potentially fatal heat and moisture events doubled between 1979 and 2017, and is increasing in both frequency and intensity.

These intolerable episodes of extreme humidity and heat, which could threaten human survival, are on the increase worldwide, suggesting that the worst-case warning scenario on the consequences of global warming is already underway, the study reveals.

The most extreme incidents occurred along the Persian Gulf, where the combination of heat and humidity exceeded the theoretical limit of human survival on 14 occasions. Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the World Cup will be held in 2022, was one of the places to suffer - albeit briefly - from these potentially fatal weather events.

These disturbing results surprise scientists, as earlier studies had predicted that such extreme weather events would occur later this century, mainly in tropical and subtropical regions where humidity is already a problem. "Previous studies predicted that this would happen in several decades, but this shows that it is happening now," he said. said The Guardian's lead author, Colin Raymond of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "The duration of these events will increase, and the areas they affect will expand in direct correlation with global warming.

In dry conditions, the body transpires excess heat through the skin, where it then evaporates. Moisture hinders evaporation, and can even stop it completely in extreme conditions. If the body's core overheats, organs can quickly begin to fail and cause death within hours.

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Meteorologists measure the effect of heat/humidity on a centigrade scale called "wet bulb". In theory, humans cannot survive above 35°C on the wet bulb scale - the peak was reached in small areas of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to the study. Slightly less extreme but more frequent outbreaks were detected in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, northwestern Australia and the coastal regions of the Red Sea and Gulf of California in Mexico. "We may be closer to a real tipping point than we think," said co-author Radley Horton.

And on top of that, the drought

These hot spells are almost always accompanied by drought waves. French meteorologists are expecting them for this summer, mainly in and around the Rhône corridor and the eastern part of the country. As if this region had not been hit hard enough by the coronavirus, it is now threatened by drought.  

In particular, Météo France is forecasting drier than normal weather over north-western Europe, including a large part of France, over the next three months. Temperatures should also be above normal over the whole of the old continent.

The State Secretariat for Ecological Transition is concerned possible situations of " over-crisis in the Covid period "The risk of encountering water supply difficulties, given as "probable" or even "very probable" in these regions, could add to the constraints in place to control the pandemic.

Source AFP, The Guardian

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