Humanitarian Organizations Sound Alarm on Looming Threat of Summer Heat

Summer approaches, humanitarian organizations are issuing urgent warnings about the lethal impact of extreme heat, which often receives less attention than other climate change-related disasters such as hurricanes and floods. In a joint statement on March 28, two of the world’s leading humanitarian bodies underscored the urgent need to address the growing menace posed by rising temperatures, particularly to the most vulnerable populations.

The year 2023 marked the hottest on record, with soaring temperatures disproportionately affecting marginalized communities, including the elderly, outdoor workers, and those lacking access to cooling infrastructure like air conditioners. The Red Cross and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sounded the alarm on the “invisible killer” of extreme heat during a virtual summit, coinciding with the conclusion of the United States’ warmest-ever winter.

Jagan Chapagain, secretary-general for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, emphasized the imperative for global stakeholders to take concrete action to prepare countries and communities for extreme heat. Samantha Power, head of USAID, highlighted the stark reality that heat-related fatalities already surpass those caused by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes combined in the United States.

In response to the escalating threat, USAID is spearheading initiatives to bolster resilience to extreme heat, including the construction of “heat resilient schools” in Jordan. These schools are equipped with passive heating and cooling systems, thermal insulation, double-glazed windows, and air conditioning to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures on students and educators.

John Podesta, US climate envoy, emphasized the importance of climate information and early warnings in saving lives and assets, particularly in regions lacking access to such crucial resources. Despite concerted efforts to address heat-related risks, including tree-planting initiatives in Freetown, Sierra Leone, challenges persist in ensuring equitable adaptation measures and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr underscored the urgency of holding all stakeholders accountable for emission reduction efforts, emphasizing that while localized initiatives are crucial, comprehensive action on a global scale is indispensable to combatting the overarching threat of climate change. As temperatures continue to rise, the imperative to prioritize adaptation and mitigation measures grows ever more urgent to safeguard vulnerable communities worldwide.