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Heat waves could be the deadliest disease of the 21st Century

By Caroline Kibii | August 17th 2015

NAIROBI: Heat waves, which are prolonged periods of hot weather, are the monster of our time.

There have been rising cases of heat waves across the globe. Their occurrences are associated with rising atmospheric temperatures beyond human tolerance.

Throughout history, heat waves have been recorded in Europe, America, India and Africa. Currently, the rate at which we witness these heat waves is alarming and requires urgent attention in terms of preparedness to respond to their occurrence.

Egypt is the latest country to be hit by a heat wave with over 60 people dead and several hospitalised due to heat exhaustion. The number of the victims may go up. The temperatures were as high as 47 degrees. India’s Telangana and Andhra Pradesh experienced a heat wave close to three months ago killing more than 2000 people.

Several people were hospitalised due to heat stroke and dehydration. The United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warn that heat waves have become more frequent and severe on a global scale mainly because of hastening of climate change.

A study conducted by the WMO also revealed that 14 out of the 15 hottest years ever recorded were all in the 21st century. That confirms the unsafe trends in global warming along with increasing temperatures and overwhelming weather patterns.

It is clear that placing the necessary response measures is necessary even in countries that have not experienced heat waves.

Evidently, heat waves will catch several governments by surprise. However, this could be countered if the governments observe the heat-health early warning systems issued jointly by the the WHO and WMO. The issue was based on the experiences and expertise drawn from the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed tens of thousands of people.

While the idea of heat waves may sound strange to us Kenyans, we need to be ready to act swiftly given the dangers they pose to people, wildlife, plants and the economy.

A heat wave is a killer occurrence. Dehydration is likely to occur especially when an individual does not consume enough water. As the body gets hotter, the blood loses a lot of water making it thicken, resulting in heat stroke.

Heat stress occurs when the body absorbs more heat and is not in a position to cool normally. Because of the inability to cool down, body temperature goes up, breathing quickens and pulse rate increases.

This could cause serious health problems or even death. Just like human beings, animals can suffer or die from heat waves when their body temperatures rise beyond normal. They sweat, pant, drool, drink excess water and lose appetite.

Prolonged high atmospheric temperatures could cause plants to lose moisture and eventually die. Chances of bush fires are high when there is a heat wave.

Disaster preparedness is not optional. The government needs to develop new and improve existing weather forecasting systems and advise the community accordingly. Frequent updates and warnings on changing weather patterns and disaster occurrences are the best way to curb the high number of fatalities at any given time.

There is also need to upgrade medical facilities that attend to disaster-affected victims. Developing a disaster attention unit in every county is imperative. Natural disasters occur at unexpected times.

As a country, we have experienced a number of disasters ranging from tsunamis to floods and prolonged droughts. It is high time we realise the need of preparedness.

Negligence and postponing action should be a thing of the last century. Humans are partly involved in contributing to disaster occurrences because of our activities.

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