Health: heat-sick – especially high risk for city dwellers – knowledge

Summer is just around the corner: for some people, high temperatures can be particularly stressful. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa


Temperatures in most regions already exceeded 30 degrees in mid-June. For some groups, the heat can be particularly stressful. In the capital, on the other hand, there should now be a plan.

Berlin – If the apartment doesn’t cool down at night, your bare skin literally burns when you touch the concrete and you’re already exhausted from doing nothing, you know: summer is here. This is especially noticeable in big cities like Berlin.

The heat is not only extremely exhausting – it can also make you sick or even fatal. Experts talk about silent death.

Despite the well-known danger, which primarily stems from long heat waves, experts believe that many health facilities are not sufficiently prepared. That will now change in Berlin: the alliance of medical associations, the health administration and the German Association for Climate Change and Health (Klug) have presented heat protection plans that hospitals and care facilities, for example, can use as models.

These templates outline what to pay attention to in the event of a warning from the German Meteorological Service: These are the obvious points such as a light diet with cold food rich in water, increased drinking options and moving vulnerable patients to cooler rooms. But also, for example, about storing medicines at the right temperature and about structural adjustments that would have to be solved in the long term.

Concrete retains heat better than natural materials

But why are city dwellers at increased risk of suffering from the health effects of heat? According to J├╝rgen Kropp, head of the Urban Transformation Research Group at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Potsdam, this is partly due to the so-called urban heat island effect. Concrete stores heat better than natural materials. Since heat always flows from a warmer to a cooler system, it is emitted from overheated buildings into the ambient air as soon as temperatures drop in the evening. Then indoors, as well as in big cities, the temperature is generally higher than in the countryside, even at night. During heat waves, the body’s chances of recovery are reduced.



In principle, this heat island effect has already existed in the past. As the authors of the French study in the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” state, more frequent and more intense heat waves increase the risk for city dwellers posed by this effect. This is a direct consequence of climate change.

On its website, the Federal Environment Agency refers to model calculations that predict for Germany that “in the future, heat-related deaths can be expected to increase by 1 to 6 percent for each degree Celsius of temperature increase, which would correspond to over 5,000 additional deaths annually from the heat until the middle of this century.

2018: 740 deaths in Hesse

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), there is no national monitoring system that records the number of heat-related deaths in all of Germany. According to the RKI, Berlin and Hesse estimated heat deaths in 2018: According to this, around 490 people died from the heat in the capital, around 740 in Hesse.

This particularly affects older people, says Dr Nathalie Nidens, who works in the field of heat protection at the German Association for Climate Change and Health (Klug) in Berlin. The reason is obvious: it has to do with the natural aging process, Nidens says. Elderly people have a weaker sense of thirst, their circulatory system is no longer as efficient. There is also a social aspect. Many elderly people live alone and have no one to help them during a heat wave, says Kluga researcher Jelka Wickham. Especially affected are many homeless people in Berlin, pregnant women, newborns, young children and those with previous illnesses.

The range of health effects of heat is wide. It ranges from dizziness and exhaustion to swelling in the feet and, in extreme cases, even death, the doctor explains. “During periods of extreme heat, for example, the risk of heart attack increases, and heart attack can be associated with permanent disability,” Nidens says.

So now the question is: what can the particularly affected cities do? “One aspect is certainly to get the cities with vegetation,” says Professor PIK Kropp. Because plants – especially trees – evaporate water and thus cool their immediate surroundings. The German Union for the Protection of Nature (Nabu), for example, repeatedly emphasizes the positive effects of green roofs or facades.

Kropp mentions wooden construction as another measure. Wood is an insulator and does not give off so much absorbed heat to the interior. This could be used to build office buildings that are taller than 80 to 100 meters.

Wickham is also in favor of expanding green spaces and changing the city’s infrastructure. However, she notes that these are long-term measures that will take a long time to implement. That is why short-term solutions are needed. This includes, above all, informing the population and involving the health system, such as medical practices and nursing facilities, says Wickham. But using a drinking water machine or identifying cold spots in the city is also important.

Wickham stresses: “All these measures are just compensation for what went wrong before. We caused climate change, and that means we have to see that we take action now to correct this mistake that didn’t solve the original problem of getting stronger.”

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