Health and sustainable development

Exposure to extreme heat and cold

Cardiac failure, stroke and (in the case of cold exposure) respiratory infections are associated with exposure to temperature extremes, which can result from inadequate housing design and infrastructure. Poor household insulation, heating, or ventilation can exacerbate the effects of climate extremes. Frequently, poor households are the hardest hit, as the poor can least afford to adequately heat or cool their homes.

July 2003 heat wave temperature variations relative to July 2001 temperatures in Europe
July 2003 heat wave temperature variations relative to July 2001 temperatures in Europe
Wikimedia Commons/Reto Stockli and Robert Simmon, based upon data provided by the MODIS Land Science Team

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Most studies of the impacts of thermal extremes have thus far been conducted in developed countries. In Europe, deaths have been estimated from heat- or cold-related illnesses, with the elderly being the most at risk of mortality. For instance, in the United Kingdom, an estimated 130 000 elderly people died from cold-related illnesses from 2004 to 2008. Determinants of cold indoor conditions include the dwelling’s age, heating costs, household income, household size, and level of satisfaction with the heating system.

Extreme heat conditions are linked to deaths from heat exhaustion, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Heat waves are projected to increase in duration, and severity with climate change, an effect which has become apparent in recent decades. For example, excess mortality of 45 000 was estimated during a heat wave in Europe in 2003. As with cold-related mortality, heat-linked deaths are associated with elderly populations, social isolation, and poor housing conditions.